The Yoga Path • Omaha, NE

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{ Practicing Physical, Mental & Spiritual Health }

One Step at a Time

A story was once shared by Michael Ciborski, one of the dharma teachers in the Plum village tradition. Michael was a monk at Plum Village for nine years and was one of the first Americans to join this Buddhist monastics at the French monastery. Thich Nhat Hanh, Michael retells, was very accessible in those early days and so he, Michael had a good rapport with the venerated Zen teacher. One day Michael was bounding up some stairs preoccupied with his own thoughts. Joyfully running up two, to three steps at a time, when he turned the corner at a flight of stairs and almost ran into Thich Nhat Hanh before abruptly stopping. Michael was startled by almost knocking over his teacher. But Thây (teacher in Vietnamese) looked right at him, at first sternly, then with a smile and then quietly said to his monk: “You should take one step at a time.” Then he mindfully walked past Michael down the steps.

We at the Path are trying to mindfully walk this new path one step at a time. Recently there have been a lot of opening of businesses, parks, and activities. While the need to get back to life’s activities and endeavors can be appreciated, the circumstances that have promulgated these closing and social isolation haven’t in reality been diminished at all. Numbers of those infected by Covid19 still increase and the need for caution, when being in groups is still something we should all respect for ourselves and those around us. With that in mind, we at the Yoga Path will review current circumstances and implement protocols to insure the safest possible atmosphere when we do return. While the school will not be opening June 1st, we will be monitoring our local environment on weekly basis to see how to best come back to physical classes.

In the meantime I will begin to offer online classes through the Zoom platform. To begin with I will offer a
Tuesday evening class at 5:30 p.m. and
a Thursday morning class at 9:30 a.m.

The classes will be at least one hour. If more class times are needed they can be added.

This online format will probably become a new normal even when classes at the studio do resume, as there may be those who would still be more comfortable attending virtually for a time.

I miss the Yoga Path community and the energy that you all have brought to your practice and thus to my teaching. Virtual classes are poor substitute for your actual presence, but seeing your faces will be some consolation.

If you are interested in participating in these online classes please email me at omyogapath@gmail.com. Or if you have questions or comments please feel free to write. Any comment will very helpful, so don’t hesitate to contact me. Hearing from you would be such a gift.

Filed under: Education, Stories, , , ,

Tools of Practice: Metta

Probably many of you have heard of metta meditation. The meditation on loving kindness. There also a story about how the Buddha first introduced this practice with a sutra teaching. In many ways this teaching seems appropriate to making friends with our current situation of distancing and social isolation. So often the pat answer is to say: “just be with the strong feelings as they arise.” But emotions like anger, fear, sadness, envelop us in the the energy that then sweeps us into them. So to “just be” seems like a wishful afterthought. Stories like this helps me to realize there are concrete ways to bring mindfulness to life:

This version of the story is borrowed from a meditation and mindfulness teacher Manoj Dias , born and raised in the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

The Story Of The Metta Sutta

Some 2,500 years ago, in the time of the Buddha, there were 500 monks that were sent by the Buddha to go on retreat. They call it the rains retreat as it’s usually during the monsoon season. Whenever the monsoon season comes, the monks would be sent off to a particular part of the forest in the mountains to meditate with a particular practice and not come back until they had insight, until they had vipassana or wisdom.
These 500 monks were sent away to one particular part of the forest and back then there was the belief in devasDevas, we could refer to them as spirits, ghosts, or energies that lived in the trees and in the forest. These trees were initially very welcoming of the 500 monks as they came, they were meditating, they didn’t seem to disturb the energy of the forest or nature. But over time, every day they realized that these monks weren’t going away. So, they hatched a plan to get rid of them.
In the evening they decided to make some ghoulish sounds. They decided to let off some really bad smells and to really scare these monks into leaving. Sure enough the monks weren’t able to sleep at night. Their meditation was disturbed, and they became distracted, agitated, anxious and stressed. Like what many of us are feeling right now.
Soon enough the monks became quite terrified, which broke their concentration (samadhi) and disrupted their mindfulness. Some even developed fever and pain and dizziness in conjunction with the fear they were experiencing, and all felt it was impossible to continue practicing where they were. They decided that they had enough and were going back to the Buddha to ask him to send them somewhere else, so they could continue their practice. And they went back and they said to the Buddha, “Buddha, we can’t go to that particular part of the forest. Can you send us somewhere else? There’s ghosts, odd sounds and things that scare us.”
The Buddha sat there and he thought for a little while about the words of these monks. Then he said to them, “You’re right. I sent you into the forest, into this pitch black, dark forest without a weapon. I’m going to give you a weapon. I’m going to give you a weapon that you can defend yourself with no matter what.” And the monks were stunned. “ A weapon?” 
The Buddha sat all 500 of the monks down and he gave the discourse of what’s called the Metta Sutta. The Metta. It’s sometimes translated as the teachings of love or teachings on loving-kindness. Essentially, what it boils down to is, it is a teaching on friendship.
So, after these teachings were imparted to the 500 monks, they returned to the forest, and they practiced cultivating friendship towards everything that was in their lives. This included the spirits that were scaring them and themselves. All of them were feeling anxious and scared. This included the people that they love. This included teachers that had helped them along the way. This included people like their neighbors and friends. Through the quality of this kindness and friendship that they cultivated towards the devas, the devas allowed them to stay. As such stories go from back then, these monks eventually became Arahants, awakened ones.

KARANIYA METTA SUTTA*
from the Buddha

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways..
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

*Translated from the Pali language by monks from the
Amravati Monastery in England.

Filed under: Education, Stories, Virtual Yoga, , , ,

Are You Sure?

There is a Zen story that you have perhaps heard. This condensed version is borrowed from the writings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

One day a farmer went to the field and found that his horse had run away. The people in the village said, “Oh what bad luck!” The next day the horse returned with two other horses and village people said, “What good fortune!” Then the farmer’s son was thrown from one of the horses and broke his leg. The villagers expressed their sympathy, “How unfortunate!” Soon after, a war broke out and the young men from the village were being drafted. But because the farmer’s son had a broken leg, he was the only one not drafted. Now the village people told the farmer that his son’s broken leg was really “good luck.”

It is difficult to judge whether an event is fortunate or unfortunate, good or bad. Success contains failure and failure often offers lessons we wouldn’t learn any other way. And many of these judgements arise from our perceptions of how we think things ought to be. This is good and this is bad, right or wrong. Then these perceptions lead us to creating a story about what will happen in the future or if only something different had been done in the past.

Wrong perceptions can create a host of problems. So much of our suffering and dissatisfaction arises from our failure to recognize things as they are. There is a phrase; a question in Buddhism: “Are you sure?” Asking ourselves this question can sometimes stop the story and give us space to reflect what is really happening.

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Filed under: Education, Stories, Virtual Yoga, , ,

108 Sun Salutations

March is at an end. Any other year we would have done Sun Salutations together in class. The classic sequence would have offered a variety of teaching opportunities. We would have dissected the poses, explored ways to refine and improve our technique. Done them quickly in succession, slowed down to savor the energy being expended, practiced with our eyes closed, then faced the sun to surrendered our efforts to the cosmos. But this was not a typical March this year. Most of this was abruptly halted due to the reality of a collective corona contagion.

Yet some of you told me of your endeavor to continue on with the goal of 108 salutations. Some of you even let me know that you completed them. Some of you, finished just today. I congratulated all who finished, but am equally gratified by those who did what they wanted. But the true treasure here is doing them for yourself and for those who touch your life.

Some of you know this number 108 is considered sacred, and continues to pop up in not just in yoga, but in nature, spirituality, and mathematics.

Exactly how the yogis arrived at 108 is not quite certain, but it seems to be a number that connects us to our place in the cosmic order. The distance between the Earth and sun is 108 times the diameter of the sun. Around the time the ancient Vedic texts were being collected, far away Stonehenge was built—the Sarsen Circle is 108 feet in diameter. In Belize, during the era of the Mayans, the High Temple of Lamanai was erected at 108 feet tall—the same height as the funerary Tikal temple in Guatemala. And within the temple of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza in Mexico archeologists believe there to be a second pyramid inside measuring 108 feet wide. Is it possible that our ancient ancestors knew this? These temples, built to worship and to house the souls of great leaders upon their death, perhaps used this number to connect humans not just to our sun as a giver of life, but to the Creator.

In yoga, the number 108 refers to spiritual completion. It is why japa malas are composed of 108 beads. In other spiritual teachings beyond the traditional yogic texts, this number comes up repeatedly in the search for liberation. The ancient yogis believed that if we could align ourselves with the rhythm of the creation, we would ultimately bring an end to our cycle of reincarnation.

Hindu deities have 108 names, and India is said to have 108 sacred sites. In Jainism there are believed to be 108 virtues. In some forms of Tai Chi there are 108 moves. In Tibetan Buddhism there are 108 delusions. Many Buddhist temples have 108 steps representing the 108 steps to enlightenment. While in Japanese Zen Buddhist temples, a bell is chimed 108 times at the end of the year closing a cycle to serve as a reminder of the 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana.

In mathematics 108 brings a whole host of equations and possibilities most of which I can’t explain. But one simple examples is: if you square 2 you get 4 and if you cube 3 you get 27, and if you multiply 4×27=108. Galileo said the universe is written “in mathematical language”— that the mysteries of creation itself could be unraveled through numbers and equations. For the yogis, that code is 108.

Yet none of these numbers or what they symbolize are really to the point. Whether one does 108 or 27 or 2 squared, the most pertinent sun salutation is the one you are doing now. In moving from one pose to the next, you realize that you can embody the practice, this ancient teachings through movement. It doesn’t have to be perfect or precise. Surya Namaskar becomes beautiful when we take these poses, one after another, into our bodies in ways we never could by just talking or thinking. So when we walk away from having done them, we join with the mystics who offered a code for awakening, a code to our own nature.

Filed under: Education, Stories, Virtual Yoga, , , , , ,

Sitting Spaces

Students at the Yoga Path have been invited to share images of the meditation space in their homes. Here are some of the initial entries.

“One of the most important ways you can transform your home space is to make a place to sit. Creating a peaceful sitting area can transform your whole house. This also an important way to support your meditation practice. If we sit in the same place each day, it takes us less and less time to remember to stop and return to our breath. Here, in this place, our bodies and minds can help each other relax”  Thich Nhat Hanh

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Here is an inspiration to all us busy pe

Here is an inspiration to all us busy people, who never seem to have time to practice our yoga. http://ow.ly/tpsKP

Filed under: Stories

Interbeing at a Retreat

This weekend I attended a Mindfulness Retreat in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.  It was put on by the Heartland Community of Mindful Living lead by the dharma teacher Joanne Friday.  It was a transformative and refreshing experience, but that is not what I want to talk about right now. What I want to talk about it this women I met there. Perhaps some of you have heard of Dr. Mary Pipher.  When I was talking to her I didn’t know who I was talking to.  Now I know.  Author of Reviving Ophelia and her most recent book The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture.  Here is a talk she gave recently about her newest book.  I believe there is significance in that I would me this women in context of this Buddhist retreat.

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When Women Were Birds

This is a remarkable story about a mother’s death and a daughter’s life, if you have the patience to listen to it.

When Women Were Birds.

Filed under: Stories

Image in Time

Filed under: Stories

Mindful Soup

Last April I was at Blue Cliff Monastery for a six-day retreat. I had been to other retreats in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, but this was the first at an actual monastery. Blue Cliff was a former resort in up-state New York, that has been converted by brown-clad Buddhist monks and nuns (mostly Vietnamese, but not all) who practice mindful, compassionate living in the present moment. Being there with these monastics was a wonderful experience, and their presence rubs off in such a way, that you come to appreciate the joy of a simple smile or the preciousness of a shared meal.

But as the following article explains, when at Blue Cliff, you eat your meals together, in silence, and mindfully. So you also get your food, silently, buffet style. Most of the meals are excellent, beautifully laid out, completely vegetarian, and obviously healthy. Since there is no talking, however, one can never ask what the menu is. Some of the dishes are unfamiliar and to a Midwestern boy, such as myself, bordering on exotic. At one such lunch I was going through the lunch line where there was a kettle of dark, enticing looking stew that I plunged the ladle into with curious eagerness, only to raise a substrate that resembled the fertile loam that collects in my rain gutters in a wet Fall day. In normal circumstances I would have put it back, but being the middle of a crowded buffet line with silent mendicants to the front and back, it seemed only proper to put the compost-like soup into my bowl. I watched the monks and nuns filling their bowls with alacrity, so I thought “it might be good, give it a try.” This notion was short lived, though, for sitting down at a table, just like the one you see in this NYTimes story, I discovered the soggy-leaf soup, was every bit as bad as its appeared. So I sat mindfully, quietly across from my table mates; living completely in the present moment and gagged down every leaf and stem of my soup. To this day I remember this meal as one of the longest of this particular life.

read New York Time article on Mindful Eating

Filed under: Stories

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