Resources: Spirituality

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 Spirituality

“Spirituality is the willingness to fall flat on your face.” Adyashanti

Huston Smith, in his book on the universality of religious teaching,  ‘Forgotten Truth, ” points out that human societies have always recognized two levels of reality; the human realm where the day to day world unfolds with constant change and surprises, and a vaster, more mysterious realm of absolute truth “that is rooted in the unchanging depths of the universe”. Religious historian Mircea Eliade’s famous book “The Sacred and the Profane” explores the multiplicity of ways in which human beings and societies have tried to come to terms with these two orders of reality. Spirituality has come to mean the traditions and teachings that provide society with a guide to the origins, structure and functioning of the cosmos and rules of behavior to help the human remain aligned with this cosmological order.

Human society has truly needed this guidance. There has been human suffering from the time of Adam and Eve. The capacity for abuse and violence towards ourselves, our family members, other humans, other life forms, and the planet is seen in every culture across time and space.

The earliest forms of spirituality were feminine where all forms are divine. The gods were thought to inhabit the sky, the rocks, the trees, the animals. There were a multiplicity of gods and goddesses to be invoked, supplicated, worshiped. Then several thousand years ago, masculine form of religious expression arose. Transcendence, the urge to move out of the world of form into the formless, took precedence over the feminine imminence, often repressing the world of forms as a degraded or inferior state. “God is not to be found in the world of forms”. The very first of the Ten /Commandments says “I am the Lord, thy God! Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.”This perspective will be seen in some of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the early forms of Vedanta and Buddhism as well as Judaism and Islam.

These great religions clarified and codified spirituality and their traditions and teachings dominate the modern perspective. But in addition to providing a written history some of the early pioneers developed  a methodology of enquiry into the possibility of personal transformation.  This opened up a whole new world. Out of their enquiries came refined understanding on how the human could break out of the cycle of being hurt and hurting others. They showed that it is humanly possible to be in the world with love, compassion and wisdom.

As Buddhism evolved, the Boddhisattva tradition appeared, bringing compasionate engagement in the world after stabilizing the transcendent. Adi Shankara in India revitalized Advaita Vedanta, non-dual Vedanta, where the world of forms is celebrated as expressions of Ishvara, the manifest aspect of Brahman, the absolute. Yoga arose in India as a path of awakening to this possibility of liberating ourselves from our destructive behavioral patterns and realizing the boundless capacity for wisdom, compassion and creativity which is our true nature as human beings.

In modern times, the development of science has radically changed the exploration of the cosmological order. Modern technologies such as air travel, publishing and the internet have allowed the whole planet to have access to the most refined spiritual teachings and as we move into the 21st century, we are experiencing an unprecedented spiritual renaissance rippling through the earth community.

We might call what is emerging an Integral Spirituality. The urge for transcendence, to realize the unbounded, limitless Absolute, is balanced with the urge for imminence, to give birth to forms, to create, sustain and dissolve an infinite number divine possibilities within tie and space. Combining masculine and feminine energies, transcendence and imminence, the Absolute and the relative, is an expression of wholeness, of interconnectedness. Thich Nhat Hahn calls this interbeing. Fully mature humans inhabit both realms, understanding each perspective, knowing intimately the dynamic realtionship between them and the ultimate underlying unity of wholeness. They embody the clarity of transcendence known as wisdom as well as the empathetic depth of imminence known as compassion. They are not just waking up, but also waking down!

This level of understanding is still rare state in the human realm, but the numbers of those awakening are growing steadily. Theologians and philosophers still get entangled in the concepts and language. There is still fear, control and confusion in the ranks of the religious, with competing belief systems and ideologies claiming absolute truth. For most the Absolute transcendent is still conceptual. “God is in heaven, and I am here on earth. Maybe, someday, I’ll get to heaven.” It is extremely common to confuse the relative and the absolute. “God is out there somewhere”. It takes patience, contemplation and discrimination, as well as a good teacher, clear teachings and a community, to help sort through the confusion.

The Great Wisdom traditions of the world have always tried to cut through the confusion and as quickly and clearly as possible point to this Integral Truth. In India the Vedic tradition gave rise to Vedanta, Buddhism and Yoga.

Adi Shankara’s brilliant expositions on the relationships between the Absolute and Relative which serve as the foundation of modern Vedanta  are relevant today and can help us as we work our way through Patanjali.  Advaita literally means ‘not two’ and refers to the fact that it is universal to see two realities, to separate the world we perceive, the world of time, space and continuous change, the world described by science, from the Spiritual, whether we call it the Divine, the Unchanging Absolute, The Ground of Being or God. What we see versus what we do not see. Creation is separate from the Creator. Philosopher and religious historian Mircea Eliade’s famous book “The Sacred and the Profane” explores this in depth. The Samkhya School of Indian Philosophy retains a dualistic perspective, because it works for beginners. However, say the non-dualists, these two realities are actually ‘not two’, but different orders of reality of a single unified whole. Lets use a wedding ring as a limited but useful metaphor of how this might work.

Imagine a gold wedding band. It has weight, a specific shape and color. If we ask the question ‘is the ring real?’, ‘does it exist?’, the obvious answer is yes. A non-dualist would probe more deeply. What happens if I were to melt the ring down, leaving an amorphous blob of gold metal? Where did the ring go? The gold is real, the real was real, but now the ring has disappeared. The ring is a dependent reality, subject to change. The gold remains the same. From the melted gold I could make a coin, an earring, an amulet. The forms are subject to change, but gold remains gold and continues to reveal itself no matter what form arises. The ring is never separate from gold, not other than gold, but exists at a different order of reality. It is dependent upon other conditions. The gold is independent of the form it appears as. Whether as ring or bangle or coin, the gold remains unchanged. Only the form changes.

The non-dual vision sees all of creation, from atomic particles to living beings to stars and galaxies, as dependent reality, subject to continous change and simultaneously reflecting the infinite absolute. The absolute is like the gold, the unchanging substrate underlying all forms throughout all of space and time, including space and time, and simultaneously present, shining forth through all forms, to one whose spiritual eye is open. Science and the world of forms it describes emerge as tangible expressions of Divine Creativity. Theology often stumbles through this philosophical minefield in trying to explain the nature of creation and the creator, but the yogis, Buddhists and Vedantins, each in their own way are very clear about this.

See a flower. Any flower. It has a stem, possibly leaves, petals. It may be a certain color, have a specific scent. It emerges from a seed, forms a bud, and unfolds its petals to reveal its full beauty. But then it fades, falls to the earth and eventually rots, returning its components back to the soil. It is transient, changing. And yet, if I look deeply at the flower, and see the whole cycle of birth and death, I see the radiant expression of transcendent intelligence, of divinity. The flower is spiritually transparent. A flower is easy, but this is true for any form, any manifestation of creation we choose. With a spiritual ‘eye’ we see wholeness everywhere, we see divinity in all forms, in all of creation. If our spiritual eye is closed we see inert matter.  This is the curse of the modern world.

If we examine our own personal perception of the world, we will similarly find two realities, but frame them slightly differently. The two realities of my world, consciously or unconsciously, are me and everything else. And usually included in ‘everything else’ is  the Divine, God, or however we conceive of the spiritual realms. This is our biological inheritance. My immune system has this as its foundation. I am enclosed by my skin, everything else is not me. In fact what is not me can be very threatening to my existence. Fear and anxiety easily arise from a sense of ‘not me’, of a threatening ‘other’.

When we study interpersonal neurobiology we will see how this sense of ‘self and other’ actually evolves through time, and organically, begins in-utero. Healthy parenting nurtures a vulnerable infant into a mature and self-sufficient adult. Through this process, I regognize others who are actually nurturing to me, who are intimately intertwined into my being. My self sense extends beyond my skin to include many relationships. From this perspective, spiritual maturity arrives when we are in a healthy realtionship with all of creation and there is no other, no threat to ‘I’. In fact, the ‘I am’ recognizes itself as wholeness, as both the absolute and the relative, as self and other simultaneously.

Thus we arrive at the key spiritual question, What is this ‘I’ sense we all have? Who, or possibly, what am I?  By the time we are old enough and ready to ask these questions, we most likely have an ‘I sense’ based upon thoughts, beliefs, emotions and previous experiences. However, if we observe closely, we will see that these are all transient forms, aspects of prakriti, the dependent reality. And If we relax into the depths of observing we realize that what is arising, the ideas and thoughts and sensations and emotional energies, arise out of and dissolve back into an infinite spaciousness. What is this infinite spaciousness?  It is the timeless Absolute, the ‘Ground of Being, and the Truth of “I”. Patanjali begins his treatise on yoga here, in the first four sutras of the Samadhi Pada. The rest of the sutras discuss either practice (science of yoga) or philosophy.

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Related Links

Bhagavad Gita
Yoga Sutras
Hsin Hsin Ming

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Recent Posts

Micro-Cosmic Orbit: Pt 2

Exploring and Embodying Three Dimensions

In the previous post we explored the micro-cosmic orbit as a means to refine our focal attention (samadhi) through bringing our attention to specific points along the orbit and linking these points into lines, arcs and circles. As we work more deeply this way, we may discover that we can find these points at three levels. The first is out beyond the confines of the skin, in an ‘orbit’ in the energy field around the body. The second is directly on the skin, where an acupuncturist or shiatsu practitioner would apply needles or pressure. The third is in the interior of the body along the planes of fascia interwoven through the organs, blood vessels and nerves. When we can feel all three of these levels simultaneously, we are inhabiting our spherical energy field and can begin to fully realize the possibilities of having three dimensional/spatial sensitivity, perception and consciousness.

images-5The girdle vessel (Dai Mai,) the fourth vessel we use, is a latitude line and is essential in finding our three dimensional perceptual field. This yang vessel pairs with the yin ‘thrusting vessel, the vertical center axis, creating horizontal stability, and allowing us to rotate/twist. Rotation inherently builds the third dimension of depth ( A circle has length and width. To create a sphere you add depth. ) and is the gateway to cosmic awareness as well as a more vibrant embodied presence.

Rotation drives the whole manifest universe. In our solar system, the planets spiral around milky_waythe sun. In our Milky Way galaxy, the stars, including our sun, spiral around a center (probably a giant black hole! If you can find Sagittarius in the night sky, and you will probably have to wait until next summer, look through and imagine 26,000 light years off in the distance.) The earth rotates on its own axis creating weather patterns as well as a sense of day and night.

The spinning top (one of the oldest toys known to humans, found in archeological sites all over the world) demonstrates the cosmic principle in physics we are embodying. The faster it rotates, the more stable the vertical line. When the top slows down it starts to wobble and when it stops spinning, it falls over. To keep the rotation, you need to keep feeding it with energy. The bicycle uses this same principle, flipped 90 degrees. Another aspect we explore is the radius of the horizontal circle. Rotation pushes from the center outward (yang) in what is called centrifugal force. As this is counterbalanced by theGM2434B-1 yin centripetal (center seeking) force, we can change the volume of the energy field by playing with this ‘expanding – condensing’, yang – yin relationship.

In this top, the widest circle with the most outward thrust, the purple one, is below the center of the vertical axis. Lowering the center of gravity adds even more stability, which is why we emphasize the lower dantien in our breathing, movement and meditation practice. When we discover how to work with this principle in the energy field, our twisting poses can actually help expand the body. If we work muscularly, you will feel constricting in twisting poses.

SBK_1711254-24Traditionally the ‘dai mai’ girdle vessel surrounds the body at the level of the pelvis in the lower dantien. but we can move our attention to awaken other ‘latitudes’ of the body. To begin in the feet, stand with the right foot forward, the left foot back, as if you are about to move into a standing twist (without the forward bend), but haven’t yet begun. Before you move any further, imagine a spiraling coil of energy beginning below the floor (the Antarctic Circle) and traveling up the center. Notice how this mimics the girdle vessel. Now imagine the coils widening as they rise up from the base ( moving toward the equator), as the yang energy expands outward. The girdle vessel is very yang so this is quite natural. Feel the energetic volume expanding and condensing with the breath, but slowly expanding in overall volume

To awaken the front body-yin energy field, we can take the hoop forward to fully engage the arms and shoulders. Now imagine the hoops extends through the back body, receiving the rising spiral and expanding as the action of twisting. SBK_1711254-2SBK_1711254-9Most students eventually leave half of the body behind and end up contracting rather than expanding, especially along the spine column. Imagine the center of the spinal canal opening outward in an expanding circle/spiral, melting the tissue, feeling spaciousness, transcending the limitations of structure.SBK_1711254-4 (My front foot turns out much more than average to release the inner groin. Don’t feel you have to imitate this, but find out for yourself where openness and balance meet.) The hoop is moved to the front to expand the yin/organ/front body qi field and expand the ‘wings’ of the body, but also feel the back body softening and opening. This feeling can be evoked in sitting, lying and inverted twists as well. If you do not have a hula hoop handy, you can also use a thera-ball to find the volume.SBK_1711254-8

 

Another key component awakened here is the Pericardium 8 point, PC-8 (or P-8) in the center of the palms. Analagous to the K-1 points on the feet, P-8 is a gateway between the inner and outer qi fields. The SBK_1711254-11Pericardium, the fascial connective tissue membrane surrounding the heart, arises embryologically from the same cells and tissues that create the diaphragm and liver. The ‘heart protector’ literally does this, on many levels. As someone with a well-armored heart, I am finding that opening and nurturing the heart protector so that is does its job with over doing it is awakening a level of sweet vulnerability that is both precious and scary.

SBK_1711254-12In acupuncture, the pericardium meridian is part of the JueYin channel and connects all the way through the femoral canal to the legs. For those of you who have been practicing ‘climbing the wall’ for the last few years, you can actually trace the whole fascial continuity of the Jue Yin. (Use imagination to fill in the blanks.) Rise up from K-1 (not the heels, even though they do rise on their own) (DFL for those of you who know Tom Myers’ ‘Anatomy Trains’ system) to P-8, passing through liver, diaphragm and pericardium.

You can also track the qi from P-8 back into the body horizontally, again using the wall.SBK_1711254-14 Using the tip of the  middle finger of your other hand (PC-9) to feel the connections, trace the qi from the the wall and P-8 into the area around the pec minor muscle and then go inside the body to the pericardiam itself, along with the liver and diaphragm. Use the breath and your imagination. Then go back and try the twistings shown above with these new perceptions.

SBK_1711254-20To continue our building of a three dimensional perceptual qi field, we can return to the thera-ball to provide sensation and visualization. I like the feel of my third chakra having organ support, so I find placing the ball there and using a wall creates a powerful presence on the inside. Embryologically speaking, this is the extemely yin yolk sac which becomes the entire gut body. The conception vessel points on the micro-cosmic orbit are stimulated by the ball, bringing sensation and perception here. The liver comes from the yolk sac, so I can use this position to also find the Jue Yin channel we explored above. Lying SBK_1711254-19over the ball in a forward bend creates a similar feeling, with even more yielding and softening to the yang back body erector muscles. By moving the ball to the sternum, I can activate a new set of points on the conception vessel and engage the inner tissues surrounding the 4th chakra

If I want to build up my back field perception, I use the ball from behind and awaken sensation on the yang Governing Vessel.SBK_1711254-16 Here I have dropped it a bit lower to find the sacral-lumbar junction and here I can feel the possibility of both lumbar flexion and extension, from S curve to C curve and back.  The very important GV-4 Qi gong Image‘gate of vitality’ is here The inner abdominal space also opens and the front back and center plane begin to become conscious. This becomes trickier as you move upwards towards the liver. You can place the ball anywhere and feel different points coming alive. Feel their inner as well as outer presence. Back support can also help open the front. I haveSBK_1711254-17been trying to open my throat more for my sax sound and using the ball (or any elastic support) helps soften and melt tight tissue.

SBK_1711254-21Fish body support, opening some Gall Bladder Meridian points is another way to use the ball. I am using the wall, but this can be done on the floor as well, with slightly different effects. All of these ways of playing with the three dimensional field are ways of awakening and establishing a dynamic energetic field, centered in your heart, and radiating out throughout the whole of the cosmos. When you are out in Nature, feel this. When you are out and about in the human sphere, feel how you respond. It is fascinating to see what happens.

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