aum mani padme hum

aum mani padme hum
ॐ मणि पद्मे हूं
I have heard different meanings for this mantra, and also that its meaning is beyond translation into words in any language. That its meaning is experienced in the resonance of the sounds.
When I first heard this mantra many years ago it was translated something to the effect of ~ the jewel is in the lotus of the heart. Which means to me ~ all that we are seeking is already inside of us.
Like the lotus flower, growing up from the composting muck of the pond floor of our past experiences, held buoyant by the clarifying water of our current life lessons and experiential wisdom, emerging from our depths through the surface of our being, awaiting the sunlight of our awareness to blossom.
Love

aum mani padme hum

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Yoga Awareness Meditation Retreat in The White Mountains

Yoga Awareness Meditation Retreat in The White Mountains

~ flow yoga as experiential metaphor to bring meditative awareness into the rest of our lives ~

In this one day retreat we will experiment with yoga postures and breath as awareness meditation, cultivating an increased ability to sustain presence and center ourselves at will. Developing this skill consciously together in practice will help us recall this quality of awareness when we most want to, or need to, be present in the rest of our lives.
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Starting with a short hike and meditation along the Pemigewasset River, we will then retreat to the sanctuary of The Mountain Club on Loon to integrate our meditative awareness into an indoor yoga asana practice. After lunch we will ride the gondola to the summit of Loon to practice in the forests of the White Mountains.
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This class is accessible to students of all levels. Simple postures will be offered for newer students to hold and develop awareness, while more experienced practitioners will be guided into more complex postures to refine their skill and attention once the simpler postures become easy. We will experiment to find our own unique expression of the potential of each pose.
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Bring clothing for yoga and a mat, layers appropriate for the weather outside, a towel and swimwear, and footwear suitable for light hiking. In case of inclement weather, we will utilize The Mountain Club as much as necessary and go outside as weather allows. Lunch is available at area restaurants, including The Mountain Club, or you are welcome to pack your own.
Please arrive well fed, enough to sustain you until lunch time.
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Make it a weekend retreat with spa services and discount room rates through The Mountain Club,
or with private instruction or a Thai yoga session with Denise.
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Denise practices in nature as much as possible, accessing a playfulness and deep awareness that she brings to her classes. In addition to teaching at the Mountain Club on Loon, she is the seasonal yoga instructor for the Loon Mountain Snowsports School and The Saint Anselm Cross Country Running Team. She leads yoga and meditation at The Plymouth House, a residential retreat center for drug and alcohol recovery, which has helped develop her teachings into a practical life skill that helps free us from dependence and confusion, awakening our potential through awareness and centering. She also brings yoga to festivals and events throughout New England and along the east coast. Her style derives from many traditions of movement and meditation and adapts to fit the specifics of her clientele. Denise is also available for personal and group private yoga classes and Thai yoga sessions.

Saturday August 10, 2013
9am – 5pm
The Mountain Club on Loon
Lincoln, New Hampshire
$80 – includes lift ticket

For more information or to register call 603 568 5977
or visit http://awarenessretreat813.brownpapertickets.com

deniseporterkemp.com

Coming to Attention

Notice sometime when you are engaged in an activity that holds your attention. How you don’t have to try so hard to concentrate, it just happens. Spontaneous focus, effortless attention. Recognize what that feels like.

Then play with purposely focusing your attention while doing simple everyday things that are not so inherently interesting. Recalling the sense of ease you experienced when the focus happened spontaneously on its own.

Notice when you get distracted, and shift your mind back. No big deal. You might have to do it over and over again. Rather than fighting your mind, play with it. Keep coming back to what you are doing. Sharpening your mind with the focus, and letting your mind rest in attention.

Not to block out all of your thoughts, or that thinking or contemplation isn’t ever useful. Yet slowing down the momentum of your compulsive habitual thoughts and developing the capacity to pay attention at will. Not only when attention arises organically, whenever you want it, or need it.

By practicing this in less charged situations you give yourself experience so that when you find yourself in more difficult scenarios where you need to stay aware and important moments when you want to be present, you have developed an increased ability to do so by choice.

Scratching the Itch

I used to get really annoyed when people would suggest sitting completely still and not scratching an itch that came up during meditation. And even more annoyed when I would try and do it. I find great peace in stillness, and I found I could sit much more comfortably in silence for longer periods of time if I adjusted my seat occasionally and scratched itches when they came up. Then I was not so distracted and aggravated by my discomfort. And could just get on with the peace.

And I like this metaphorically as well…why stay stuck in something that is not working when you have the capacity to easily fix it? Plus, I know of numerous stories of people who messed up their knees and legs by forcing themselves to stay in seated meditation for too long in positions not suited to their body. Sometimes it even set off a bit of a panic in my body. I felt trapped if I couldn’t move.

I saw this discipline as an archaic tradition that I didn’t want to carry on. In theory sure. We can sit through what is uncomfortable. I get that. But in practice not so much. It is too dangerous. Could set people off or injure them. I like to view myself as part of the evolution of the practices, helping translate and adapt them to make them practical to our lives today. And I tend to see too much strictness as a block, enforcing an absolute paradigm on subjective experiences.

And yet, once I had convinced myself that I could move anytime I wanted too, that no one was forcing me to not scratch the itch, that I had the choice…I began to play with not scratching it. Breathing through the discomfort and experiencing the sensation of the itch blossoming across my body.

Sometimes I focus right on the itch as the center of my awareness, in its full blown intensity. Meeting it. Sometimes I utilize the breath as the center of my awareness, a tether that keeps me calm as I experience the cycle of the itch. Often it gets more intense before it starts to dissipate. Sometimes it is excruciating. Sometimes I find myself inadvertently scratching the itch or moving my position before I even realize what I am doing. Other times I catch myself right before I unconsciously scratch, and pause the momentum. Some itches come on really slow and I feel them as if they are coming from far away. Experiencing the itch as it crests and as it passes.

And sometimes I just choose to scratch the itch. Without too much judgement that one choice is better, just noticing the experience and the results. Sometimes scratching the itch brings relief, for a while at least, and sometimes it just sets off every other itch that wants scratching. Each time is a little different. Through time and paying attention I become more adept at discerning when a pain is a signal that I need to adjust to protect myself and when it is just a passing discomfort. And I get better at listening, and more creative at adapting. Cross-legged on the ground is not the only way to meditate.

It’s true, I can always just scratch the itch. If I can reach it. Yet in life I can’t always so easily fix what is uncomfortable. Or worse. And I began to experience how sitting through the itch, by not moving my body right away if my legs get achy or my back gets tired, that I am cultivating the capacity to stay steady and go through uncomfortable stuff when it comes up inside me, in the moment, in the rest of my life. Without having to react. And without having to block it either.

And not just in theory. The practicality of sitting through the itch. Yes, it passes. And also practicing how to go through it while it is still happening.

For if I have to scratch the itch to be alright, I am not free either.  And if I have to feel “peaceful” to be truly at peace in any circumstance, I stay a slave chasing my own comfort. Which is not always possible to maintain.

Its not that I can’t scratch the itch, but maybe I don’t have to.

Which is pretty empowering.

I like the metaphor, and the experience, of this too.

Skillful Use of the Past

Someone asked me hopefully the other day, “It’s all about being in the now, isn’t it?  We’re always either stuck in the past or living in the future, but we just need to be in the now, right?” Which seems to be a common mantra right about now, and in its essence, holds a lot of truth. 

I’m reminded of Utah Phillips’ and Ani DiFranco’s song, Bridges, on the album The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere, when Utah says, “I always thought that anybody who told me I couldn’t live in the past was trying to get me to forget something that if I remembered it would get them into serious trouble…” (if you’ve never heard the song check it out here: http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Bridges/iTzz7?src=5 and really listen to the words).

I find it useful to make a distinction between living in the past, or being stuck in the past, from how Utah describes the past as informing the present, and that the lessons of the past are available to us in the present when we are open to accessing them.  And what Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu refers to as a skillful use of the past in his insightful and practical writings on meditation and how the lessons we learn through meditation translate into and are applicable to the rest of our lives (which are distributed for free online here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/meditations2.html).

A skillful use of the past means paying attention to intentions and actions and noticing the results as they unfold in the present moment, allowing discernment, perspective, and wisdom to grow as the present becomes the past, preparing us to deal as skillfully as possible as the future becomes the present. While each moment is a completely new experience, for the variables have never come together exactly as it is right now, the present is created by the past and directs where we are going in the future.  It’s all a continuum.

“Time is an enormous long river…and I am standing in it just as you are standing in it…My elders were the tributaries, and everything they thought, and every struggle they went through…flows down to me…And if I take the time to seek…I can build that bridge between my world and theirs…I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world…bridges…from my time to your time, as my elders from their time to my time…” Utah Phillips…

Being in the now is not tunnel vision, it includes an awareness of all that came before and all that will become in the future, in the peripheral vision, like a visual dristhi in asana, or physical yoga practice.  By focusing on the present, or the breath, or the visual focus point, we still see everything in the periphery, without having to stare or block anything out either.  We are focused at the center.  Which helps keep us from getting thrown off balance.

“We all put into the river, and it flows away from us…till it no longer has our name, our identity, it has its own utility, its own use, and people will take what they need and make it part of their lives…” U.P.

asymmetrical adaptation

Something that I have noticed experientially through my own yoga practice and in working with others is that our bodies are not symmetrical, and we benefit from working with each side of the body uniquely as well as a part of the whole organism.  I often do slightly distinct sequences on each side in my own practice and when working with others individually, adding in extra poses to help prepare one side for a pose that is difficult on that side, or holding some postures longer on a tighter side and others longer on a weaker side.  Finding approximate balance within the realities of an asymmetrical body by working with each side from where it is coming from.

While teaching group yoga classes though, I have been taught and have found it is functional to do the same sequences on both sides, and hold each side the same amount of time.  As teachers, we are offering a general potential template to fit a wide variety of students, and while we can offer suggestions on placement and alignment, and variations we have seen be useful for others, and assists that accentuate the possibilities of the posture, it is ultimately up to each student to experiment with the template and find what fits the uniqueness of their bodies.  In class I often suggest exploring in each posture to discover what is useful from the internal experience of your own body, rather than trying to fit your body into a preconceived idea of what the posture is meant to look like from the outside.

This is one place where individual instruction and personal practice can really be useful, both on its own and as a compliment to group practice.  Without the pressure of keeping up with the class, you can take the time to listen and respond to the cues of your body, exploring what is useful in that moment.  Being willing to notice what isn’t useful too, even if that is in conflict from what you think you want… This point is an essential ingredient to keep from ignoring what you don’t want to see, and only taking in what you like.

All of this can be done in a class setting too, yet an individualized practice allows the sequencing and timing to cater specifically to your own eccentricities.  And practicing on your own can help facilitate discernment through the yogic principle of svadhyaya, or self study, of when we are listening and responding to subtle cues versus pushing our own will, by noticing the intention behind the action, and its result.

All of which helps train our minds and our intuition to notice and adapt in other areas of our lives as well.   Then in the moment, in yoga class or anywhere, you can take in what is being offered generally to the whole and mindfully experiment with how it uniquely applies to you – and in terms of asana, or yoga postures, to each side of your body…

The way to balance, adaptation, depends on where you are coming from…

The Full Pallette of Wisdom

Right now, it’s the tenth night after the nine nights of the goddess in the Indian holiday of Navaratri, see https://deniseporterkemp.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/navaratri-the-nine-nights-of-the-goddess/ for more explanation…

Something I’ve been experiencing in all this is that being open to the wisdom that comes to me includes being able to stay open to the things I don’t want to see, too – in myself and all around me. Without trying to block it or fix it. Or fix how I feel about it, no matter how raw it feels sometimes. Or feel too sorry for myself or others about it, either. Well, maybe a little bit at first…yet then letting that veil drop, too, and just breathing it in, letting it integrate, no matter how uncomfortable it is to sit with it.

For wisdom, truth as we are currently capable of experiencing it, doesn’t always show you the things you think you want to see. And being aligned with “truth” doesn’t always mean you get what you think you want. It – the wisdom, the truth – holds all sides of the spectrum. None cancels the other out, the beauty or the tragedy or the mundane that lies between. Fighting or ignoring just prolongs the suffering and keeps us from seeing what we actually have to work with.
So on this day that asks us to begin again, my intention is to continue to clear and sensitize and strengthen myself so that I can stay awake in all of it, as best I can. Not shutting any of it out just because I don’t want to have to see it. Observing, learning. Reorganizing when I realize I have been confused. Letting go of grasping for what’s not when I realize I’m doing it. With as little judgement as possible, beginning again. Embracing the potential of what lies before me, as best I can. Right now.
(written last night, October 24, 2012)