Learning to meditate.

Someone called up and said she’d been reading about the benefits of meditation. She said she wanted to get started. She said, ‘I want to meditate 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night.’

Great, I said.

The woman said, ‘I have so much stress in my life. I usually work more than 50 hours a week and my husband and I have been going through some conflicts lately.’

I’m sorry, I said.

The woman said, ‘It’s going to be hard for me to get to you, though. So can we meet somewhere? I have to drive a lot for work. Maybe we can meet quickly somewhere or you can just give me some guidance over the phone?’

Hmm, I said.

I wonder if you can guess the issue that will arise if this woman tries to simply sit down on her own to meditate for 20 minutes. Even 10?

Here’s a clue: she won’t. Or she will for about 3 minutes and then she’ll fidget. She may check her phone. She’ll get up and come back. Within a week, she’ll decide, ‘I’ve been trying this for a week and I’m not enlightened.’ And then she’ll stop, concluding, sadly, meditation isn’t for me.

Which is precisely why there’s this gift bag of techniques offered up by traditional yoga.

Does your back hurt? I promise you that learning to meditate with a sore back is unlikely to bring you peace. Is your mind spinning? Same story. Do you struggle to be kind? To tell the truth? To rein in your greed? Yeah, well, deepening the practice of an asshole only deepens the asshole. Which is to say, someone who isn’t looking closely at herself to determine appropriately non-violent, honest and selfless behavior is only going to strengthen the patterns that keep her looking every which way but in. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we’re provided with the yamas, a set of restraints for worldly interactions, and the niyamas, a set of observances for inner processing. Toward others, be kind, be honest, don’t steal, be moderate, and free of greed. And toward yourself, be clean, content, disciplined. Study yourself and be devoted to something.

Not surprisingly, these are the first two of eight limbs meant to guide a seeker from raucous mind to absolute peace. From there, move the body. Then the energy on the wind of the breath. Tame the sense organs. Learn to focus. Become fully attentive on the object of focus. Then, give up the object and remain fully attentive. That’s meditation. By practicing that for a long, long while, with adequate preparation, maybe someday we’ll all comprehend the incomprehensible vastness of the universe and the pure potential of consciousness.

In the meantime, we’ll be more peaceful, healthier, clear-minded, less stressed and more compassionate. It’s worthwhile, even if we don’t all become Buddhas.

But it starts with a careful sequence. A series of steps to prepare the body to feel, to relax, to sit comfortably. Another series of steps to prepare the energy to withstand the process. And then practices for the senses. Practices to train focus. For some, mantra japa. For others, chanting. Maybe yantras. Maybe murtis. There’s a lot in the gift bag, curated over millennia to address various personality types, physical conditions and social conditioning. These yoga practices aren’t simply isolated magic tricks or exercise regimens. They’re tools of a system. They help the seeker see herself clearly and complement each other as the we develops her skills. And each tool serves some element of our daily interaction with existence—body, energy, mind, intellect, spirit.

It’s such an incredible gift bag. So thoughtfully compiled. All about you. The greatest gift of all being the compassionate recognition that plopping yourself down in lotus to ascend into mindless absorption isn’t natural after decades suffering and delighting in life.

So. Yoga. A system to know yourself. A system to lead us toward clarity of purpose and calmness of mind. A system to teach us all that we are all Buddha, Christ, Mohammed and Mahavira. If we let it.

That woman? To start, I gave her an asana sequence with breath regulation. We did a short visualization before she settled in to rest. She said she had a marvelous experience in savasana. She wants to learn more.



Shall we sankalpa?

I’ve got news: The world is yours.

Great, I hear you thinking, how am I going to clean this behemoth?

Thankfully, we share in that responsibility. (We have a lot of work to do; you start with your side.)

Still. The world is yours. Mine too. And the dude in the backward baseball cap next to you? His, as well. Also, it belongs to your gun-toting brother-in-law. Your scandalously dressed niece. And that neighbor who thinks revving his motorcycle sounds like itty bitty kitty purrs. Ah, we are a motley bunch of stewards. May we co-exist in peace.

Speaking of peace…

I remind you of your existential responsibility as I offer up a beautiful gesture shared with me by Kate, the owner of PB Yoga & Healing Arts. She suggested that the community at our studio invite our students and clients to cultivate a sankalpa for peace and to share in the experience of this sankalpa for the next 108 days. To prepare for this sankalpa, we remember our own essential power to direct the world—and our lives in it—in the direction we desire.

As a steward, you may not always acknowledge just how much say you have over the comings and goings around you. Let me offer a few considerations to get you thinking.

1. The world is as you choose to view it.

Emerson said, ‘Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.’ This may rankle a few, but the mind is the ultimate creator. It is the architect and the inhabitant. Expressions of the divine are generally projections of the mind. As Rumi said, ‘the beauty you see in me is a reflection of you.’

Our divine minds are the arbiters of our realities. Most of us have tolerated an experience of suffering. And most of us have enjoyed unbridled joy. Between these two extremes, we experiment with various blends of happy and sad. Maybe you failed a test and rose from the ashes by laughing it off. Maybe you injured yourself and wallowed for months. Responses to suffering depend on the way you allow your mind to view the base problem. Has a chasm opened at your feet? Are you fighting a vacuum sucking you into the earth’s magma? Or is the sun still shining and off in the distance you hear a train whistle calling you to understand the transient nature of things?

The world is yours to perceive. You only have to listen for the train whistle.

2. You are responsible for cultivating the type of world you wish to perceive.

Since I’m throwing around quotes, consider the great Gandhi showstopper/counselor’s office poster note: ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Sometimes, a saying loses its edge with repetition so let’s put this another way: it’s up to you to do the right thing.

I wonder, sometimes, how it’s come to pass that the only people who seem to feel empowered are the wolves of Wall Street and the CEOs of massive corporations. Maybe because we call them powerbrokers. We call them Masters of the Universe. You see how we have invested power in them? We did that. Weird.

But they have no more intrinsic power than me or you. They only have more money. But not necessarily the ability to create a world any better or worse for themselves than me or you. They might gain a billion dollars and wallow for years. See, for example, the Koch Brothers. In other words, they don’t know how to satisfy themselves. And that’s why their world probably doesn’t satisfy them. Sad.

You, on the other hand? Satisfaction is available with thoughtful effort.

You have only to focus your mind, that great instrument of creation, set an intention, and draw your mind again and again to your innate powers to see the intention through. You are responsible for the cultivation. And also the harvest.

3. Cultivation and harvest is way more fun with others.

This, I think, needs no further explanation. It’s always more fun, more supportive, more inspiring to join an effort with others. Granted, you have to work with your own mind, exploring your own solitude in its depths to find the requisite focus for this. But it’s nice to know that others are doing the same. For this, yoga classes are nice. And meditation classes. And eating food together. And jumping over waves.

As these ideas settle in with you, I invite you to join the sankalpa. I wrote up a little explanation and direction that we’ll be sharing with our students at PB Yoga & Healing Arts. I share it here with a hope and a wish that you’ll find time and inclination to devote a few minutes of your yoga practice setting your own sankalpa for peace that will become a part of our greater sankalpa practice.

We know we need it. We know the world needs it. So let’s be the peace.

Will you join me? If you start today, with 2014’s last harvest moon, your last meditation on the peace you bring to the world will be on December 24. What a wonderful gift for yourself and the world at the close of another year. So much better than socks.

I am peace. I share my peace with you. I share my peace with the world.

Today and for the following 108 days, the community of teachers and healers at PB Yoga & Healing Arts invites you to join us in nurturing a noble sankalpa. Together, let us make a solemn vow to bring about peace in ourselves, our lives, our families, our neighborhoods, our world.

A sankalpa practice grows from the premise that we are all perfectly placed to fulfill our hearts’ desires, the mission of our souls. We have no need to become better or different. We carry within us the means, the spirit, the energy to cultivate our desires. We carry within us our deep and divine minds.

To realize our aspirations, we turn our minds toward them. Again and again. And again. Our minds grant us wisdom and power, and qualities of the eternal, the sacred, the wonderful that nourish our goals without our egos interfering. Today and until December 24th, we won’t wish for peace and force it to happen. We’ll make a promise.

This is sankalpa. A solemn vow, a rule to be followed above all others. It’s determination to support a high truth. By its very definition, a sankalpa calls on us to recall the very purpose of our existence. It reminds us of our true nature, our purest intentions and guides our choices to honor them.

Now, for a few minutes, let’s dedicate our yoga practice to bringing our sankalpa to mind. We’ll state our sankalpa silently to ourselves, affirming our resolve as though it has already become a fact, nourishing the energy within us to realize our promise.

As we settle into this sankalpa practice, let’s remember that we are, each of us, open, timeless and whole. We are peace. We are already creating the peace that we have resolved to share in our worlds. Silently repeat your sankalpa to yourself as we practice. I am peace. I share my peace with the world. I am peace. I share my peace with the world.