The Tranquil Waters of Equanimity

Calm lake with mountains in the background and one pleasure boat.
© Pascale Parinda 2018

I’ve focused my attention the last few months on the practice of equanimity, one of the four Buddhist immeasurables, along with loving-kindness, compassion, and joy. Equanimity in this context means to have a clear-minded tranquil state of mind, striving to avoid being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness, or agitation. It is the ground of wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love. Although some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being, beyond like and dislike, without bias and opinion. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.”   

The cultivation of loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity can open the heart, counter the distortions in our relationships to ourselves, and deepen our relationships to others. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I’ve explored my relationship with each of these qualities as my thoughts and emotions have bounced around during the move this summer to my new home in Weaverville. I’ve had many opportunities to watch my mind bounce between like and dislike as I chose what to pack and move. The practice of even-mindedness has helped me to stay on track without second guessing the decision—except for maybe a few times as I unloaded box after box. I have collected a lot of yoga books over the years!

“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”

—Satchidananda

Currently, I’m packing yet again. This time I’m traveling to Southern Dharma Retreat Center to teach a 4-day workshop that starts on Wednesday evening, Aug. 14. Don’t worry! The fabulous Lindsay Majer will cover the 6pm class at 191 Murdock Ave so you’ll be in good hands. I’m grateful to Lindsay for being the guest teacher many times this year as I’ve traveled the globe. I’m staying put for a while when I return, and plan to teach workshops closer to home.

I’ve taught a Buddhist study and yoga practice workshop at Southern Dharma for over a decade. Each time I prepare, I deepen my understanding of the practices I will be sharing, while discovering again the myriad ways that Buddhism and yoga support one another. For instance, here are two translations of yoga sutra I-33:

 “Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene, and benevolent.”

—B.K.S. Iyengar

I wish you a calm and serene mind. The practice of equanimity pays off.

Practice is key. Stay steady. Your mind is trainable, no matter what it thinks.

The Heart of Self-Care

As I was sitting in meditation and not thinking, a multitude of thoughts arose about packing—packing for vacation, packing for moving, and packing for life. In a split second, I had loaded my suitcase with a yoga mat, a block, a thin strap, an inflatable zafu, and nine novels. Of course, I hadn’t actually left the zafu I was sitting on! Back to the breath and to being present.

Silhouette of horizon, trees, and flying bird against sunset sky.
Whether we are practicing yoga, sitting in meditation or prayer, watching a bird in flight as the sun sets, or packing for a much-awaited vacation, let’s practice tuning into present moment awareness and finding acceptance of what is.

If I listened and responded to every thought that wafts across my mind, I would be crazy. Literally. My busy mind has a List of Things to Do that never ends. Some part of me believes that if I get everything done, I’ll be happy. And there are plenty of books and online programs available to show me how to be productive and get it ALL done. The truth is that my To-Do List will never be “done” because some part of me keeps adding on to the list. Dust the baseboards. Pull vines off the trees. Walk the dog. Check the list.

Then there’s the Self-Care To Do List: Practice yoga, eat healthy foods, exercise, meditate, read more books about yoga and meditation. I can get very stressed contemplating all the things I need to do to decrease my stress!

What if happiness is an inside job (not a head job at all!) unrelated to the completed to-do list, especially to the one designed to quiet my overactive mind? How does happiness feel? Or contentment? Can you find the visceral experience of happiness in your body right now? Sit still for a moment and conjure up a memory of when you felt happy or content. Let yourself fully feel that throughout your body. Remember how that feels.

Back to me! As I awoke from the trance of thinking on the meditation cushion, I realized that my skin was tight and my jaw clenched in anticipation of “getting everything done.” I softened my jaw and relaxed my eyes, listening and looking inward. I opened to the feeling of contentment that I discovered. Ahh. Can I take that ease into the rest of life? Yes, if I’m attentive to what I’m doing right then and there without being one thought ahead of my actions. Without being caught up in any thoughts.

So whether we are practicing yoga, sitting in meditation or prayer, watching a bird in flight as the sun sets, or packing for a much-awaited vacation, let’s practice tuning into present moment awareness and finding acceptance of what is. Let’s tune into the spaciousness that comes from being fully engaged with life as life unfolds, not as it is in our head. My own experience is that the practice of present moment awareness is at the heart of self-care and it doesn’t require any list at all.

My Journey with Iyengar Yoga

As I look forward to attending the annual IYNAUS convention (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States) next week in Dallas, Texas, I want to share how I first became involved with this style of yoga and what it means to me. Simply put, the practice of Iyengar Yoga changed my life. I took my first class in 1984 and I continue to be so very grateful I got on that particular mat.

B.K.S. Iyengar, founder of Iyengar Yoga.

Initially, I began yoga as a physical exercise, like running or swimming. Immediately, though, there was something different about how I felt after that first yoga class. I felt settled. That experience stayed with me during my job as a pharmacist. I began to see life from a different perspective, perhaps an effect from those twisting poses or inversions. I slowed down. I became a better listener. I had fun! I hated savasana.

Asana was the way in for me. Paying attention to the physical aspects of my body led me to experience aspects of my body-mind that I couldn’t see, although I could feel them.  Who knew that strength, endurance, and flexibility were more than physical attributes?

I wanted others to feel as good as I did. I wanted to tell strangers on the street that Iyengar Yoga opened doors of understanding to other layers of existence—to the Great Mystery. That didn’t seem like a very smart idea! The compassionate self-discipline of yoga had already taught me to stay put and watch my impulses before acting on them.

The world became my mat. Using blocks and straps on the mat taught me how to use problems and challenges of life as support for growth rather than as obstacles to happiness. I learned that everything changes—the weather, my body, and especially my mind. I learned that I have no control over external circumstances, although I do have at least some control over how I respond to them. I credit this understanding to the ongoing practice of yoga, to the determination of staying put in a difficult pose, like savasana. Who knew that corpse pose entailed dropping the ego as much as dropping the body?

An ongoing practice brings me “from the periphery to the core to the periphery”—to borrow the theme of the 2016 IYNAUS convention.  Although I first attended yoga classes for the exercise, I stayed for the other benefits I received beyond the physical. These benefits are hard to put into words, but I suspect as yoga students that you experience them, too. As a teacher, I witness the changes in energy that flow through students during class. I see the transformation! Students also share with me how yoga off the mat has given them valuable tools for engaging with life’s challenges.

The theme of the IYNAUS convention is “Exploring the Path of Practice,” and that about sums it up. I practice Iyengar Yoga because the practice itself—especially in savasana—is an exploration into uncharted territories of the self.

While I’m away from April 11 to April 18, please explore your practice with the wise and generous instructors who are teaching my classes (see Schedule). I’ll see you when I return, full of new ways to be on the mat together.

Mindful of Memory

Warrior on the Beach

Walking on the malecón this morning alongside a calm, blue ocean, I was roused by waves of memory. As I raised my cell phone to call my sister, Jennie, on her birthday, I remembered the many times I have called her over the years from this same Mexican island. Instantly, I pictured the various phones I have used in my life—from a bag phone that plugged into the car cigarette lighter to a rotary dial landline and back to a party line in Granny’s house in Mt. Airy. 

Memories are part of the transient nature of thoughts. As yogis we practice staying in the moment as we learn to be attentive to our experience as it arises. We strive to notice when we are ambushed by emotions or wander off on a tangent of thoughts. At that very moment of noticing, we become conscious of our current mind state. Then we can utilize our memory in a different manner—to use the yogic teachings. 

I’m fascinated by how memories show up either spontaneously or when prompted by a sight, sound, smell, or story. Because I’ve vacationed on Isla Mujeres, Mexico, yearly for decades, memories frequently arise about events that occurred on previous visits. The other night as I watched the sunset over the ocean with my husband and our cherished Canadian friends, one of them remarked, “Remember last year when we saw that guy drop down on his knee on the beach and ask his girlfriend to marry him?” I’d forgotten all about that until Shelley mentioned it. We had shared the experience and I didn’t recall it until prompted.

I’m not suggesting that memories are bad or that we shouldn’t reflect on the past or write a memoir. Stories connect us with one another. Shared experiences bond us. It’s important to notice, however, if we are so caught up in the stories that memory archives that we are inattentive to the present-moment connections that occur with every encounter. 

On a day-to day-basis, having a sharp memory allows us to remember where we placed our glasses and what to buy at the store (especially if we forgot to take the list). We can recall the names of our friends and how to get back home. We’re able to bring to mind the wisdom gleaned from prior experiences. Each moment of existence includes the past. The mind becomes our servant rather than our master. There’s less thinking and more awareness. 

Taking this concept to the mat, each Warrior Pose has its own life. Recalling the basics of the pose, I’m able to move into the Warrior-Pose-of the Day with joyful readiness—not attached to a memory of when I “did the pose better.” If I’m pondering the past, I’m not in the pose. I’m in my head. When I wake up to that idea, I turn my attention to physical sensations. I feel my feet. I lift my chest. I remember to be present.

Taking this into daily life, tomorrow, as I sally forth on my morning walk on the malecón, my intention is to be present to the sunrise of that day without comparing it to another one. I want to feel the warm ocean breeze, hear the low roar of the waves. I recognize that memories of today or expectations of the next day may color that precious moment. I’ll take a breath. Maybe I’ll simply sit down and be. I don’t want to miss a moment of this life. 

Namaste and nos vemos,  

Cindy

Ambushed by Chapstick

My sister Carrie.

My sister Carrie died eight days ago. I knew her from the get-go. I was eight years old when she was born. Even before that, I remember feeling her move in Mom’s belly. That was weird. After Carrie was born, Daddy came home from the hospital and a day later drove me and my sisters Amy and Jennie to pick up Mom and Carrie. I wasn’t that impressed. Carrie was scrawny. She didn’t do much. I already had two sisters.

I know about impermanence. I’ve watched my own skin change texture. I’ve held on to t-shirts until they were threadbare. Everything changes. All formations are transient. But my youngest sister? Her, too? Overall, I’m okay. I’m tired. I’m grieving. I went out to eat at Marco’s (now 828 Family Pizzeria) last night. I was feeling fine. Then, a tube of lip balm ambushed me. To explain: my family is addicted to Chapstick. Even if it’s Bert’s Bees brand, we call it Chapstick. Mom had some by her deathbed. So did my sister, Amy, who died in 2017. So did Carrie. Sitting in the pizzeria I was ambushed by Chapstick memories as I brought the tube to my lips. I took some deep breaths. I tonglened my way though the moment—breathing in wet, moist, grey grief for myself and for all who are grieving right now. I breathed out bright, expansive, sunshiny joy to all who need that relief.

I warmed up to her over the years. I helped brush out her hair when we’d get ready for school. Every single morning, she’d have a rats’ nest of hair scrunched up the back of her head. As a toddler she had a way of making a “V” shape with her mouth. She made this shape every time we asked, even a week before she passed. She was a funny, happy little girl who once wrote a story about Colorfus the Rooster. Carrie loved our cat, Smokey, who slept in her bed. She was generous and would bring little treasures to me when I was a teenager. She laughed easily when she turned cartwheels in the back yard. I drove her to swim lessons, dance lessons, and cheerleading practice. She wasn’t particularly good at these sports—although she had a good time! I bought beer for her. She bought her own pot. Mom never knew about the beer.

Sadness and grief are essential to the process of letting go. Letting the whelms of emotion cover me physically, mentally, and emotionally allows me to be present to what’s happening now. I miss Carrie. That’s true. I’m happy she’s not in pain. That’s true. I’m grateful to all who have reached out in love. That’s true, too. I still miss Amy at times and now Carrie is gone. We all wore the same size shoe. All of us Dollar Girls had the same size ponytail. Now Jennie and I are the only two Dollar sisters left. The only two with tiny, thin ponytails. They, too, will go. I hope not for a long, long time. 

Carrie died at home with her dear friend Dave, Jennie, and me close by. A van came to pick up her body to take to Bowman Grey School of Medicine. In her generous way, she donated her body to science. As the van drove away, I stood in the street and waved until I could no longer see the vehicle, the circle of coming and going completed.

In the meantime, while I’m here on the planet, I will be present to those I love. I will tell them that I love them. I will cherish my time with each person I’m with, knowing that each life is precious and fleeting. I invite you to do the same.

Namaste,  

Cindy