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24-Nov-2014 Karma Yoga

Monday 24 November 2014 Leave a comment

I often mention in this blog about doing household chores like hanging out the washing, doing the washing up, cooking & cleaning, sweeping the floors. I don’t mind it as it’s for my family and it’s a relatively peaceful activity that allows me to think and reflect on what I am doing and why – it’s an expression of live for my family, and house. I am grateful for all I have. I didn’t realise that in yoga traditions this is called Karma yoga. Manual work like this, for an hour or two per day is not so bad and it’s a way of making you feel grounded. Even if I was rich enough to pay someone to do my share, I would want to do these chores. Maybe that’s where the world goes wrong – people think they are too good to do menial work like this. They are busy … on facebook, at the pub … There was a great article I read in the Yoga Journal magazine:

In the West’s never-ending quest for high-speed, user-friendly spiritual growth, an ancient solution to the problem, karma yoga, is usually overlooked. The Bhagavad Gita touts karma yoga—the Hindu path of service to others—as the fast lane to spiritual fulfillment. So comprehensive are its benefits that one of India’s most widely respected gurus, Neem Karoli Baba, gave just one instruction to his devotees: “Love everyone, serve everyone, remember God”—six words that encompass the whole tradition. “Everything he said to us was focused on loving and serving,” says Mirabai Bush, one of his best-known American followers. “He said if you want to meditate or do asanas, fine, but he never really taught us those things.” These ideas are much on my mind as I sit in a small apartment in Phoenix, Oregon, watching hospice volunteer—and novice karma yogi—Stephanie Harrison with her patient, Dorothy Armstrong. Harrison has seated herself on the carpet at Armstrong’s feet, a calming hand embracing the 73-year-old woman’s ankle. Slumped in a brown recliner, Armstrong suffers from congestive heart failure and advanced diabetes. At her request, her doctors have ended aggressive treatment and are just trying to make her final months more comfortable. But even that is becoming difficult: Liquid morphine no longer does the trick, the stout, white-haired woman says, and the pain rarely quits. Harrison has stepped into the breach, having been paired with Armstrong by a local hospice agency. A pert brunette, Harrison visits at least weekly. Often, the two women just chat, like girlfriends. But Harrison also helps out by doing light housework, running errands, and tending to Armstrong’s Lhasa Apso, Pokita. In addition, Harrison has insisted that Armstrong phone her at any hour if she feels the need. Recently, Armstrong was jarred awake in the middle of the night by intense pain that overwhelmed and terrified her. Harrison rushed over from nearby Ashland to stay with Armstrong and hold her hand. “There’s no feeling like knowing that someone cares about you like that,” Armstrong says, her voice breaking. “She’s a very special person.”

Serve Somebody

All major religious traditions stress the importance of service to others: being a companion to the sick and dying, cooking hot meals for the hungry, collecting warm clothes for the poor, and so on. But that doesn’t make karma yoga a universal spiritual practice. In yoga, service is not just a spiritual obligation or the righteous thing to do, as it’s promoted in many churches and synagogues. It is also a path to self-realization, making it a supercharged version of the adage that when you give, you also receive. So does that mean you’re guaranteed enlightenment for doing some volunteer work? Can anyone sign up for this amazing program? How else will your life change if you do? You won’t find pat answers to these questions—because, as described in the Gita, karma yoga is a mysterious process that reveals its true nature only to those who pursue it. The first mystery comes wrapped in the definition of karma yoga, which doesn’t, strictly speaking, mean “service” (often referred to in yogic circles by its Sanskrit name, seva). Instead, the desire to do service is part of what’s revealed on the karma yoga path. Karma yoga is usually translated as “the yoga of action”—that is, using the ordinary actions of your life as a means of “waking up.” Essentially, everything you do—from household chores, like washing the dishes, to “important” duties, like your job—becomes a way of nourishing the universe that nourishes you. At some point, however, the distinction between ordinary actions and service, or actions to relieve the suffering of others, disappears. Yoga teaches that as we develop spiritually, our awareness and compassion grow, making us more alert to suffering around us and less able to turn away from it. In essence, the pain of others becomes our own, and we feel driven to relieve it, much as we’d instinctively act to end pain in our own body or heart. But karma yoga doesn’t always begin so deliberately—in fact, another of its mysteries is that it’s as likely to choose you as vice versa. Meredith Gould, former director of marketing at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, and author of Deliberate Acts of Kindness: Service as a Spiritual Practice, believes that for many, karma yoga starts as a sort of inner tug. For Ram Dass, whom many consider America’s preeminent karma yogi—he has written and lectured widely on the subject and helped launch several key dharma-related service nonprofits—the call came person-to-person. In 1967, while searching the Himalayan foothills for holy men, the former Harvard psychology professor, then called Richard Alpert, was introduced to a small bearded man wrapped in a blanket, who turned out to be Neem Karoli Baba. Just one day later, Maharajji, as his followers called Baba, “assigned” Ram Dass the task that has dominated his life ever since. “[He] said to me, ‘Do you know Gandhi?’” Ram Dass says. “I said, ‘I don’t know him, I know of him.’ He said, ‘You—be like Gandhi.’ I got the little glasses first. That didn’t do it. And then I found a quote that said, ‘My life is my message.’ If I can be like Gandhi with that message, that makes my whole incarnation a service.” Which, of course, it has been, especially to the millions who first took an interest in Eastern spirituality thanks to Ram Dass’s books and lectures in the ’60s and ’70s; the countless folks who’ve benefited from his work with the Prison-Ashram Project, the Dying Project, the Seva Foundation, and other such efforts; and the graying legions inspired by his work on conscious aging.

Serve the Soul

Not being a membership organization, karma yoga also taps the shoulders of those outside the fold, like Stephanie Harrison. Having grown up watching her parents assist needy families who patronized their grocery store in Houston, Harrison began volunteering when her children were young. At first, she assisted at her firstborn’s day-care center. Later, she led tours for children and adults with disabilities at a local museum. “Starting when I was young, I had a sense that we needed one another, that we couldn’t make it by ourselves,” she recalls. In her mid-40s, Harrison began exploring contemplative spirituality, and her volunteering changed in kind. A Methodist by birth, she started practicing Thomas Keating’s “centering prayer,” which resembles Eastern-style meditation, after hearing the noted monk and author speak in Houston. She also simplified her life, minimized her creature comforts, and began attending retreats at convents and monasteries. Eventually, she adopted the church’s Rule of Benedict, a comprehensive approach to spiritual living in which service plays a key role. After moving to Ashland, her involvement with the hospice exposed her to the Buddhist perspective on living and dying. The teachings rang in her like a bell, and she soon integrated them into her daily practice. Harrison’s volunteering now drives her spiritual development as much as formal doctrines do. In the cozy front room of her home, Harrison talks about how observing people die has altered her view of the living. Her voice is hushed with wonder as she describes one patient’s passing. A Hispanic man separated from his wife, the patient was just “skin and bones,” Harrison says. He never had visitors and rarely spoke. “One day, he opened his arms and began to pray in Spanish,” she recalls. “His whole face changed—there was a light in it that came from inside out. His body heated up. And there was such joy and peace and glory that he radiated. It was probably less than 24 hours later that he died. But there was some connection he made that really pulled him out of this world into the next, gave him courage and almost took him by the hand. “I’m so clear after seeing people dying that we are all the same,” she continues. “There’s a part that sheds and a part that’s there after the shedding. In my interactions with others now, I’m able to see beyond their superficiality and respond to that deeper part of a person, which often transforms the whole communication.” To Ram Dass, the same change that Harrison describes in herself captures the difference between karma yoga and what might be called ordinary volunteering. He notes that most of us are dominated by our egos, which is the shallowest level of our being. That is, we base our identities and sense of worth on our physical bodies, personalities, jobs, reputations, and possessions, and see others through the same lens. Ordinary volunteering is often performed, despite the volunteer’s altruistic cover story, to fulfill the ego’s needs: to alleviate guilt, seek praise or respect, prove our power to “save” people, and so on. Inherently, it centers on unequal relationships—pulling someone up from the depths or fixing them in some way. It also involves a negative judgment, because a helper’s ego can only conclude, based on the evidence that egos understand, that the ego is superior to those who receive its help (they’re dirty, I’m not; they’re addicts, I have self-control). If those being helped sense that they’re being judged, it only increases their pain. Volunteering looks much different, Ram Dass says, when it’s performed from a higher level: soul to soul. In fact, it looks like Stephanie Harrison’s involvement with Dorothy Armstrong—one person sharing her wholeness with another, with no other agenda. When he does his own hospice work, Ram Dass says, “I wait until my soul takes over—my spiritual self, my witness to my incarnation. And then I walk in. I don’t find an AIDS patient; I find a soul. I say something like, ‘How’s your incarnation?’” When one soul serves another, there’s no need to give advice or lift up or heal. But along with that comes a certain acceptance of the status quo. “I think we all want to fix, because it gives us a sense of control over something we have no control over,” says Gail Straub, author of The Rhythm of Compassion: Caring for Self, Connecting With Society. “I think it’s healthier and more sustainable to serve with the idea that I can’t eliminate that suffering. It’s a Hindu and Buddhist idea that there will always be immense suffering in the world around me. What I can do is offer my kindness, knowing that I’m not going to solve anything.”

Serve Wisely

Although karma yoga is associated with selfless service, it can also be thought of as “should-less” service. In the Gita, Krishna describes the karma yogi as one who “feels pure contentment and finds perfect peace in the Self—for him, there is no need to act.” This, with classic yoga logic, creates the perfect foundation for acting: “Surrendering all attachments, accomplish life’s highest good.” But that’s the ideal. Along the way, most of us will butt up against what Straub calls “the shadow side of service.” This takes several forms besides the above-mentioned need to “fix” people or situations. For instance, we may become service workaholics, neglecting our families or our own needs. The suffering we see may make us so cynical about the world’s condition that our service grows literally dispirited. Conversely, we may approach volunteering so arrogantly that we think we can save the world. “The shadow is based on an illusion: that we’re either better than the people we’re serving or not good enough,” Straub says. “Either way, our shadow is bound to make us feel impotent, and that will dry up our compassion.” While the shadow can tear the heart out of ordinary volunteering, it plays a far different role in karma yoga. It’s engineered, brilliantly, into the process. “The same stuff that comes up in meditation—monkey mind—comes up in karma yoga,” Meredith Gould says. “‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ ‘I hate this job.’ ‘I’m looking at the clock—that means I’m not a good person.’ That’s all grist for the mill.” Of course, that also means that because we aren’t perfect, we’re going to screw up sometimes and do harm instead of good. But again, in karma yoga, that’s by design. “The question is, when we mess things up, what do we do with that? Because there’s always growth in screwing up. How else does anyone grow?” Gould adds, laughing. Inevitable as the shadow is, though, we can still make things easier on ourselves, and be better volunteers, by using common sense—for instance, tailoring our commitments to the contours of our lives. Straub notes that our capacity to serve changes at different stages of our lives. Someone with a demanding job or raising small kids can’t spare as much time as a retiree or a college student on break, and the wise volunteer will honor that. Most places overflow with opportunities to make a difference, especially if, like a good karma yogi, you let go of the need to save humanity. For ideas, just flip through the volunteeringpages in your local newspaper or type volunteering into your web browser. Scale doesn’t matter, Gould says; whether you work for world peace or find homes for abandoned cats, “I don’t think one gets more angel points than the other.” Nor does karma yoga have to be done through a formal commitment, she notes. It can even be an extension of your normal job—as with a dedicated science teacher who creates exciting projects for her students in her garage at night. Keep in mind that lovingkindness—acting with heartfelt concern toward others—is part of karma yoga too. When your service undermines other parts of your life, you’re bound to feel resentment and anger, and to spill some of it on those around you. “The spiritual aspect of service is doing what your heart calls you toward,” Straub says. “The pragmatic aspect is what you have time for without jeopardizing your family, your work, and your own inner balance. If one afternoon a month is all you can manage, that’s just fine.” Following her guru’s lead, Mirabai Bush, coauthor (with Ram Dass) of Compassion in Action, puts it even more simply. She offers this boiled-down guideline for would-be karma yogis: Be brave, start small, use what you’ve got, do something you enjoy, and don’t overcommit.

Serve Yourself

While it’s true that karma yoga is a mysterious process that you can’t direct, that doesn’t mean you can’t help it along. The Gita advises us to bring balance and equanimity to every situation. Apply that to volunteering and you’ll always bring your best self to the job. You’ll also make your service more personally sustainable, Bush says. To her, this means combining karma yoga with contemplative practices such as asana and meditation. When you do this, she says, “you begin to see that not acting is a very important complement to acting, and that being still shows us the right way to act when the time is right to act.” Both Bush and Straub work with social activists who’ve never developed their spiritual sides, leaving them vulnerable to what Straub calls “compassion fatigue.” One of the darkest parts of service’s shadow, the term refers to those who work so hard at caring that they empty their tank and the caring stops. Straub is convinced that daily spiritual practice is crucial to anyone who volunteers, not just karma yogis. “If there’s no inner life,” Straub says, “there’s a despair that says, ‘Nothing ever makes a difference.’ I think the spiritual life helps us hold the paradox of hope and despair, joy and sorrow, making a difference and feeling there’s not enough time—all those contradictory feelings that are part of deep service. It’s really hard to grapple with them with just the intellect.” But while spirituality helps prevent compassion fatigue, it’s no panacea. “I feel I have a pretty good balance most of the time,” Straub says, “but I definitely have my periods of feeling fried. It’s almost inevitable for a really engaged human being. Balance is a messy business. The key is to listen to the rhythm inside us, which of course spirituality helps us do. I might need to be enormously engaged at one point in life, and I might need to go inside and just take care of myself in another cycle, and there might be cycles where I can balance both.” Fortunately, in karma yoga, the volunteering furthers the inner work, as well as vice versa. Stephanie Harrison discovered years ago, when she first began hospice volunteering, that service was the key to her satisfaction and growth. “Dealing with death and people in a ravaged state scares me sometimes,” she says thoughtfully. “But it hasn’t stopped me. Something inside me says, ‘This is part of life and who we are.’ I believe that in everything we rub up against in this life, there’s a teaching and a possibility. A lot of times it’s uncomfortable, but that’s what being human is to me. I don’t know if I’d want to be around if I couldn’t be in this world in this way.”

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23-Nov-2014 Coogee Wedding Cake Island Swim

Sunday 23 November 2014 Leave a comment
Today was the bi-annual Coogee Wedding Cake Island Swim  – it’s about 2.4km. The November swim is called the Cold Water Classic and in April it’s the warm water. In November it’s often only 17C but today it was almost 21C. I met Michael & Mel from work.
coogee
There is a very cool video and photos that OceanFit put up here (owner is Andre who i know from Burning Palms Surf Club).
I finished in 53mins 36secs which was good for 685th from 1032 finishers – about 66% down the field which is about normal for me.
The times don’t matter a lot as the course and conditions vary from year to year so not a lot of point in comparing them, that’s why I usually track my %.
Afterwards I went to have a coffee at Gustos in Coogee then went home and zonked out on the hammock for an hour or so before going to Yoga in Caringbah with Dawn.
It was weird as it was very clear when we started the swim but by the time we finished a sea mist came in and obscured everything. Photo below is after the swim and after coffee, you wouldn’t notice the swim had ever been on – still very hot and lots of people on the beach.
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22-Nov-2014 A Busy Saturday

Saturday 22 November 2014 Leave a comment
I was up early this morning to drive and pick up Dawn from work at 7am (it’s a good one hour drive). She went by train but didn’t want to come back by train as there was trackwork and she didn’t want to drive on the Friday night as that is a busy time to cross the city.
We stopped off at Ramsgate farmers market on the drive back as that was just opened – we always like it there, one of the few places you can get fresh turmeric root.
At home I did a few chores then drove to Newtown for the 12noon Jivamukti yoga class. Afterwards (by now very hot) I went to the Sadhana cafe just up the road in Enmore. Raw, vegan and the very bet smoothies I have ever tasted in the whole wide world!! Then I drove to the Cornersmith cafe & picklery – it’s the first time I had ever been there. Pretty good and bought some pickles. Afterwards, sort of one the way home, I stopped for a swim at Cronulla. Yes was very tired by the time I got home maybe 5pm.
Photos of graffiti in Newtown:
 newtown-ganesh
 newtown-krishna

25-Oct-2014 Yoga & Cronulla

Saturday 25 October 2014 Leave a comment

We got up late, me maybe at 1030 and Dawn at 1100. I did some chores then when Dawn and Jaz ran to Marley I walked to Jibbon for a swim like last weekend. This was because after I fell over last week, I had pulled a muscle behind my right knee and during the week it made running, and even walking quite painful. Even yoga. So I had an easy week and even missed the gym.

Anyway the walk was good, but the water was a lot colder than it has been for a week or 2. I still enjoyed it though!

We went to yoga for the 4pm class and it went a lot better than I imagined, then we went to Cronulla for a coffee and then walked from North Cronulla to Wanda and back.We got home at 8pm to cook dinner, but then I left at 9.30pm with Ko to pick Chelsea up from Kurnell – back home about 11.30pm.

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19-Oct-2014 Sunday night is date night

Sunday 19 October 2014 Leave a comment

I got up really late again … is this normal on a Sunday? Did some chores, went for a walk to Jibbon beach after finding all the bikes had flat tyres, and then had a swim. Came back for a quick breakfast abut 2pm and then went to yoga with Dawn.

We were both stuffed afterwards but went to Newtown and had a coffee. Actually Dawn had a coffee and I had a hot ginger and lemon. One of the advantages of having teenaged kids is we can leave them we we go out on a date.

Then we went to “Lentil As Anything“, it’s a vegan restaurant where the menu doesn’t have any prices, you just pay as you like. They only do a limited number of dishes, the waitress had a hand-scrawled note with 3 dishes on – an Indian plate, a Thai plate and a chick-pea tomato dish, I had the indian and Dawn the chick peas. it was awesome. But they had me at “would you like a soy chai before you sit down … ” Just my sort of place, a bit grungy but super great. As Dawn said “we’ll be back”.

lentilasanything

Photos I took on my walk :

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another

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5-Jun-2014 Pushing it hard

Thursday 5 June 2014 Leave a comment

Winter in Australia starts 1st June and this week has been raining hard all week and has had cool temperatures. This morning, Thursday, it was really tipping down. really really heavily. But I like swimming in the rain so I dashed down to the beach in only my swimmers and a rain mac, barefoot even.

I had a quick swim in the pouring rain, although the sea was very clear and flat. It was great and even a little warm. Dashed home for a warm shower then went to work at Kogarah and had a busy day, then left to come home and drive out with Dawn to yoga.

I probably shouldn’t have gone as I had a headache before I even got home from work, and the yoga didn’t clear it. My arm and shoulder played up something chronic so I was in a fair bit of agony before the class had finished.

I felt quite rotten by the time we got home, in the pouring rain still.

Maybe I have been pushing it at all ends, it certainly felt like it!

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21-Apr-2014 Bad neck, shoulder, arm

Monday 21 April 2014 Leave a comment

I was up approx 10am today, and did some chores around the house,  althpugh Dawn was home so did squeeze in a coffee on the back deck after we’d moved all Jazmin’s bike parts. Although my neck, shoulder arm still hurt in bed, they are ok running. So I went running with Dawn to Maianbar and back along the spit with a wade & swim then a longer swim at Hordern’s beach. My arm was still dodgy though so didn’t swim much.

Then I made dinner for the kids tonight, had breakfat (at 3pm !) then went with Dawn to the nursery at Taren Point and on to yoga. I really couldn’t do some of the poses at all due to my injury – even laying on my back on the floor (savasana) was very painful. At home the kids had eaten dinner and barely left enough for me so I made some more including for lunch.

I read this great article in the paper ( http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/apr/19/change-your-life-stop-being-busy ):

There’s only one viable time management approach left (and even that’s only really an option for the better-off). Step one: identify what seem to be, right now, the most meaningful ways to spend your life. Step two: schedule time for those things. There is no step three. Everything else just has to fit around them – or not. Approach life like this and a lot of unimportant things won’t get done, but, crucially, a lot of important things won’t get done either. Certain friendships will be neglected; certain amazing experiences won’t be had; you won’t eat or exercise as well as you theoretically could. In an era of extreme busyness, the only conceivable way to live a meaningful life is to not do thousands of meaningful things.

“Learn to say no”: it’s such a cliche, and easy to assume it means only saying no to tedious, unfulfilling stuff. But “the biggest, trickiest lesson,” as the author Elizabeth Gilbert once put it, “is learning how to say no to things you do want to do” – stuff that matters – so that you can do a handful of things that really matter. Our only hope of beating overwhelm may be to limit, radically, what we’re willing to get whelmed by in the first place.

There is definitely more I could do on this, I keep doing extra things and the get frustrated. Days like this long weekend are perfect, not doing a lot, a run, swim, hwalthy food.

Also saw this great pic on facebook :

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