Swan River Focus of the Month
February- Focus of the Month
The Lila Gras
“My, what a Divine space suit you have on.” Ram Dass
I remember the first time I met one of my yoga teachers, Ram Dass. He is the author of the iconic coffee table book on yoga, Be Here Now. He walked out of a library in New York and I unconsciously turned towards him. He had a magnetic pull. He was lit up and accepting. I really felt like he was “somebody,” whatever a somebody might be. He seemed to look at me as though he knew who I was, yet I didn’t know him at all, let alone myself. It was an interaction I hadn’t known before, free of judgement or labels. It was a sort of Soul-to-Soul glance that lacked any motive or intention behind it.
I later saw that he was the keynote speaker that night. He gave a talk about reincarnation, a concept new to me. He stated that we all had “divine space suits” on and that we were really Souls in a body, the body being a costume. I had just graduated from college with a Major in Costume Design. I found the concept very relatable and intriguing.
January- Focus of the Month
Protection & Direction: The Four Infinite Truths
In my garden in the early morning, I admire the orange trees. From the roots, the trunk rises and splits into branches, which split into smaller and smaller branches that hang heavy with fruit. The trees were planted by the previous owner of this garden when he was a young man. He planted the trees for his mother; she loved oranges. Both the son and mother have passed away now, but the creative power within the seeds he planted, to express his love for his mother, lives on. As I am pregnant and expecting a third child, I am touched by this connection that bridges time. I know little more of their relationship, other than that she loved to garden and he planted these trees. He could have given her anything—a scarf or a hat, for example—and my family may never have known. Their relationship would not have touched our lives. But because he chose to plant a tree, his gift self-renews in a way that no longer depends on him. The trees nourish me, my family, the friends of my children who joyfully pick oranges on temperate afternoons, the baby I carry, our neighbors and even those we don’t know, like the homeless who accept a bag of oranges or a jar of juice at a red light. Read More>>>>
December – Focus of the Month
Circle the Sun
I enjoy watching the sky slowly changing color as the sun rises and the world is illuminated. I can hear the birds waking up to sing, beginning the day most likely the same way they began the day before. My morning routine is usually much the same as the previous day. I put some water on my face and put in my contact lenses, I take care of the cats and I show them each some love, I practice asana and sun salutations and I sit down to practice pranayama and meditate. The asana sequence I practice in the morning has been the same for years. I’ve been practicing the same sun salutations in the morning for years. Some mornings, I’m teaching or traveling early, but I do my best to make time for the asana and sun salutations. Some mornings, I hold off on the paranayama and meditation until later in the day, but for the most part, my mornings are very repetitive.
Life itself is very repetitive. We are on a giant rock which has been circling the sun for over 4.5 billion years. The teachings of yoga tell us that we’ve lived out many lifetimes ourselves, often repeating much of the past in our current incarnations. Day in and day out, millions of people get up, go to work, come home, go to sleep. Certain details—our bodies, our lives—change, but so much of our lives is repetition. Repetition becomes dulling for many people, but the yoga seeker sees the repetition as a chance to go deeper into what is already known. Read More>>>>
November – Focus of the Month
We are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
I sit sometimes and study my harmonium. When I look at the screws, the clasps, the eyelets, the keys, the polished wood, the bellows, and all the other pieces, I cultivate a sense of gratitude because I know there isn’t a single piece of this wonderful device I am capable of making on my own. Someone had the idea to make a screw and then figured out how to make one. Someone else made the piano keys, the shiny knobs, and all the other little tiny components. Another person took each of those individual tiny parts and put them together in a way that allowed beautiful sounds to come from them. And eventually, after all that, and against all odds, that device made its way around the world from India and into my home.
So before I play my harmonium, I study it, and I humbly acknowledge all the people (past and present) who contributed to it being in front of me. It took a tremendous amount of effort by MANY other people for a harmonium to be here. I see, contained in this small device, the story of countless beings, each doing their part to make something amazing happen. Each person played their role with skill and enthusiasm, and because they did, I get to make music.
Studying my harmonium, I also see through the illusion of separateness. There is no separation. Read More>>>>
October – Focus of the Month
The Spiritual Practice of Disaster: From So Hard to So Ham
Soham is a Hindu Mantra meaning “I am (s)He/That” in Sanskrit. In Vedic Philosophy it means identifying oneself with the universe or ultimate reality. Soham means that my Individual Self is my Universal Self. Soham is also called the Hamsa mantra, because when sung in repetition it elicits the sound Hamsa. In Sanskrit, the word Hamsa represents a white swan that symbolizes the Individual Self. Paramahamsa, the Universal Self, is reflected as Individual Self, or Hamsa, in all of us; in other words, the God(dess) in all of us.
Drugs plague the community where I choose to reside. At its laziest moments, my mind can ride the pop-psychology-recipe for “right and wrong” and condemn those who fall victim to the drugs-of-no-choice that run the streets of the 7th Ward. It’s the one-size-fits-all narrative that relates drug use to the “weak,” the “criminal,” the “desperate,” the “pathetic”- the other. Like so many folks who don’t reach for drugs as their first means of relief, I sometimes find myself seduced by proliferation of this storyline – or I did until recently, when I hurt my neck.
Without going into the throes of inane-hard-life-misalignment details, I hurt my neck and I don’t exactly know how. As a yoga teacher, gardener, builder, community mama, person who uses their body to make ends meet- this was a disaster. Three weeks into the mostly unbearable pain- and three weeks into various treatments, called-in favors, and secret promises to the Universe-nothing changed except an aggrandized projection of fear and burgeoning hopelessness. Read More>>>>