After the Erie Siddha Yoga Meditation Center closed in 1991, I focused on family, work and an evolving Sadhana. During the years from 84-89, I had worked at a rehabilitation hospital as the public relations coordinator. One hat I wore was marketing our services to families and professionals at educational conferences in the Midwest and east coast. If I would have any downtime, I would go to any available yoga or meditation classes. The Rochester Zen Center led by Roshi Philip Kapleau, before he retired, was a reminder of the power of ritual and discipline. Just watching the breath while sitting with whatever arises mentally, energetically, emotionally and physically for an hour was very purifying. I had a lot of stuff I had stuffed to process!
This was before the power yoga and high tech meditation craze. And before the Yoga Alliance fostering of factory mill yoga schools churning out sometimes minimally trained and experienced teachers with big ambitions. The rampant commercialization of postural yoga was in its infancy. There were no boutiques with expensive clothes and mats; no Zen waterfalls, Himalayan salt grottos and juice bars. Just solid teachers without pretensions, lifestyle branding or self-created “spiritual” names. Many places did not even have mats but offered towels to lie on and they were not used to wipe off sweat! We did not sweat. The goal was not sweating. We did that in saunas or sweat lodges. There were no hot studios.
There was a focus on inner freedom and not just health and fitness. Remember the purpose of all traditional yoga is moksha or the process to set us internally and eternally free. Whatever the major yoga forms of Jnana, Karma, Bhakti and Raja; lineage, or school of yoga, the practices are to set us free from the limits imposed by our mentally conditioned minds. Regardless of our external conditions and circumstances, traditional yoga provides us with a method to enjoy inner freedom internally anytime. Today there are many programs of meditation and yoga in prisons. Some prisoners report they experience inner mental and spiritual freedom despite the lack of physical freedom.
Meanwhile how many affluent successful people do you know who live in mansions in gated communities and who suffer from mental afflictions like anxiety and depression? And who take prescriptions for stress caused dis-eases? Who might be bound by their attachments to power, status, drugs, alcohol and things? Who are free? My fantasy is to be rich so I can give most of it away and not let the money distract me from my pursuit of freedom.
Many contemporary students of postural yoga take it to improve health and fitness; to take charge of their own wellness objectives; to reduce or eliminate prescription usage, and these are worthwhile goals indeed, especially in the context of our broken and expensive health care system in America. My ideal of affordable healthcare is for everyone to practice mindfulness and the yoga practices like pranayama, Yoga Nidra and specific postures that have shown to improve health and wellness.
Representative Tim Ryan agrees in his book A Mindful Nation. You can find it at https://www.amazon.com/Mindful-Nation-Practice-Performance-Recapture/dp/1401939309. To join a nationwide community inspired by the book go to http://mindfulnationnetwork.com/.
However, fitness and health, are not the essence of traditional yoga, not even the immensely popular Hatha or postural yoga (37 million Americans nearly doubling in just three years). How many of these students know there are other practices besides asana and maybe pranayama? How many of these practitioners know that what they practice was originally and can still be pursued as a radical overhaul of the physical body. The sages described it as a “diamond body” (vajra-deha). This body is transformed and endowed with a range of paranormal capacities—the kind of body that Christians describe as the “Body of Glory” and the Tibetan yogis as the “Rainbow Body.” Meditation was considered the essence of yoga. According to the National Health Interview Survey, 18 million Americans practice some form of meditation.
If we reduce the practice of yoga to just feeling good and making the body more attractive, or for health reasons, we will enjoy related benefits. The yoga postures can keep us attached to the body or they can be an entryway to the deeper practices. One of my teachers, Swami Satchidananda used to say, Hatha Yoga is the calling card for Raja Yoga. How many of those 20 million have heeded that call? My Ayurveda teacher David Frawley has described Yoga in America has Rajas (movement) Yoga and not Raja (meditation) Yoga.
If we practice the complete spectrum of yoga in addition to postures with an objective of training the mind for meditation and spiritual alignment, we can move toward the freedom that the Yogic sages like Shankara proclaimed as the highest aspiration of human existence. For over four decades, my observation is that the spiritual quest and postural yoga is sometimes pursued as a neurotic escape from confronting the complexities of the imperfections of the inner wounds of the ego, and this cannot possibly lead to healing the splits of the mind, body, and spirit resulting in freedom. Then so-called spiritual practices and postural yoga may distract one from the real work of liberation.
There were still very few Hatha classes in Erie in the 80’s, so I enjoyed exploring different approaches during my trips. I tried Kripalu, Integral, Iyengar, Sivananda-Vedanta and Himalayan Institute, classes. I meditated at Vedanta and Buddhist centers. I was delighted the Integral teachers included chanting. Some of the Iyengar teachers were chastising and shaming and gave strong adjustments without asking for permission. I was hurt twice and they did not take responsibility. I felt like they did not want us to like our bodies. Most teachers were warm and accommodating. One thing I was learning as a novice teacher, especially from Iyengar teachers was how not to teach.
After my separation and divorce, I had more freedom to travel and explore yoga and meditation outside of Erie in the 90’s. I was absorbing many influences and revisiting ones from the 70’s and 80’s before Siddha Yoga. The Siddha Yoga practices continued in my love of chanting, my study of Kashmir Shaiva Tantra and meditation using a mantra. To learn about Kashmir Shaivism, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir_Shaivism.
Occasionally during meditation, I would see the Blue Pearl; or points, bursts and rays of light. These inner visions would come to me. I didn’t try to make it happen. The cosmic Shakti, if you will, would manifest in my intuitive knowing of how I would meditate each time. It became more fluid. My role model was the integrative approach of Huston Smith and being open to different sources. It was like jazz improvisation instead of a classically structured method.
I also kept my spiritual name Rhadeya given to me by Gurumayi. It means loyalty, bravery, and giving. He was a great warrior in the epic Mahabharata also known as Karna. His story spoke volumes to me. He was the son of Kunti and Surya the Sun god. He was abandoned like Moses and adopted and raised by Atiratha and Radha. Atiratha was a chariot driver in the court of Dhritarashtra. Radha was the beloved of Krishna when he was in Gokula and Rhadeya’s foster mother.
Stay with me because it gets better. His biological mother Kunti was the mother of the Pandavas and married to Pandu. She had a fling with Surya resulting in Rhadeya, an illegitimate son. Now Rhadeya grew up not knowing he had several powerful and good half-brothers like Arjuna. He and Arjuna grew up to become the greatest warriors. Rhadeya’s dharma (duty or righteousness) as a warrior led him to be hired by the Lord Duryodhana, prince of the Kauravas to lead the adharmic or forces of evil against the forces of good led by Yudhishthira, the Prince of the Pandavas with Krishna and Arjuna as their generals.
He felt Kunti had abandoned him and was indebted to Duryodhana who chose him as his champion and friend. He felt he owed only Radha and Duryodhana his loyalty though he would be fighting for the wrong side. He discovered who he was before the battle but kept his vow and commitment to Duryodhana and then allowed Arjuna to kill him giving his life. He could have killed Yudhishthira and many others after defeating them but spared their lives.
For the complete story go to http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2005/lnovdec05/radheya.shtml. To learn more about the world’s longest epic poem containing the Bhagavad Gita go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata.
Rhadeya had been abandoned by his parents, adopted by loving parents and followed his dharma with such loyalty that he died fighting for the wrong side against his half- brothers. Whew! There was a lot here for me to contemplate. I had my own abandonment experiences with my mother, oldest sister, and first wife. I remained loyal to my children single parenting them for a while after the separation and divorce. I later adopted two children after I remarried.
I had to summon forth my own sense of bravery and selfless giving to keep it all together. I have had many opportunities to be brave. Leaving my corporate career to open the first yoga studio in Erie now celebrating my 19thanniversary when few thought I would make it; taking a stand regarding solid training, qualifications, and continuing education, and taking a stand against reducing yoga to just postural exercise that were not always embraced by others including some postural yoga teachers.
I have been contemplating what it means to be brave, loyal and giving ever since. A Guru is said to see into your soul and give you a spiritual name that can help manifest your true potential.
Ram Das once wrote I remember my first visit with my guru. He had shown that he read my mind. So, I looked at the grass and I thought, ‘My god, he’s going to know all the things I don’t want people to know.’ I was embarrassed. Then I looked up and he was looking directly at me with unconditional love.
I felt that same unconditional love when Gurumayi gave me my name. I am also aware that giving away one’s inner gold (spiritual gifts and intuitive wisdom) can lead to being a victim of abuse and/or energetically depleted. There are many examples of this happening to the long-time followers of religions and Gurus. The other polarity is not being on any spiritual path and never discovering one’s gold to share with others.
This reminds me of a verse in the Katha-Upanishad: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus, the wise say the path to “enlightenment” is hard.” The title of the wonderful novel Razors Edge by Somerset Maugham comes from this verse. The Guru in the story is said to be based on Ramana Maharshi.
Today, teachers can give themselves a secular or spiritual “yoga name” that may arise from their egos. When you receive one from a teacher or Guru, surrender is involved. The Guru’s shakti is understood to be infused in the name and if the Guru is omniscient, the name is a supporting influence for the rest of your life. In the tradition, a spiritual name is not to be created in a glib or proud way. Doubt will block this transmission.
Between 1991 and 93, I went to yoga classes in Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. I returned to the Rochester Zen Center and did a retreat at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY. I also returned to the Siddha Yoga ashram out of curiosity and to reexamine my previous observations and insights while firmly embracing my inner gold. I was teaching Hatha Yoga for the first time in a few public places. I knew this was my passion but I did not know how to make it into a vocation. I was also doubtful that Erie would support a yoga studio. And being the principal provider for five children, I did not have the expendable income to afford a teacher training. I continued to teach for the love of it.
In 1993, on my 40th birthday, I was getting ready to teach a public class when a new student walked in. A light turned on deep in my soul and I instantly knew she was my soul mate. We would marry three years later. We are now celebrating our 20th Anniversary. I did not realize how many amazing adventures would be in store for me and us in the years ahead.