Chapter 9 – Family Sadhana
Swami Chidvilasanda once said that family sadhana was the highest. Sadhana means spiritual practices or perhaps from a broader perspective any conscious action or practice that supports knowledge of the mind-body concept or ego leading to the knowledge of the higher Self. Know thy self and the unexamined life is not worth living are the great maxims from the Greek Philosophers. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_thyself and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_unexamined_life_is_not_worth_living.
I began my quest for that knowledge as I roamed the woods in my tweens near my home in Cincinnati. This journey would take a major boost forward within the context of raising a family and being married. Have you noticed you grow more when faced with a challenge? Maybe it is preparing for a marathon, earning a Ph.D. or battling cancer.
I had already challenged myself with scuba diving, rock climbing and climbing mountains in Colorado and New Hampshire. I had survived the challenges of my family of origin’s dysfunctions including a tyrannical older sister, a stressed out dad who was pro-Vietnam, a very anxious over protective mom and a fundamentalist Christian church.
My newly created family sadhana would be the next big challenge. In Raja Yoga, the second limb is called the Niyamas or the observances. There are five. I think of them as self-growth practices. For now, I will relate two to this conversation. The first is Tapas. Tapas is literally translated as heat. Other translations include discipline and austerity. For much more on Tapas go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapas_(Sanskrit).
For me to understand philosophy better, after I learn textbook definitions, I need to test the concepts in the laboratory of my own experience. I think Swami Vivekananda, the first Swami, and Yoga teacher to come to America in 1883, once said, don’t take anything I say for granted but test it in the laboratory of your own experience. This teaching inspires me to go as deep as I can in understanding Tapas or anything else.
I know it is not eating small plates of food or practicing hot yoga. My experience of tapas is feeling the psychological heat when my ego is pushed out of its comfort zone. When we are hot tempered or fiery the ego is cooking! The lower self is being purified or refined. I did a lot of cooking as a teen! An elevation of the Ayurvedic dosha Pitta results in anger, resentment, and even hatred. To learn about your doshas take this simple quiz at http://www.yogajournal.com/article/ayurveda/whats-dosha/.
I am available for Ayurvedic consults including a much more comprehensive assessment. I was trained by the internationally recognized Dr. David Frawley. You can contact me from this website.
Tapas is a very individualized experience. For a teenager, they might not want to go to school after discovering a pimple. Not finding a parking space may cause tapas for someone else. Learning you have a life threatening disease can be tapas. The “terrible twos” might be a time of tapas for all involved! Tapas can also mean challenging ourselves in positive and disciplined ways like fasting, meditating at 5:00 am, losing weight or achieving something that is not easy.
If we have a core value around know thy self, then Tapas will reveal where we are stuck or where are psychological growth edges are. Tapas has become pretty simple for me to identify anymore. When I am stressed or start to get hot, I know an ego based attachment is getting worked on. This can be a great opportunity to cast the light of awareness on which button is being pushed to eventually become free of the button.
Tapas removes the buttons. Nobody can push our buttons if we have no buttons. Then nothing can bother us unless we allow it to bother us. Someone could even direct anger at us but if there are no buttons, the anger will not be caught; it will flow through us. Then the other person may have an opportunity to own their anger. For over 40 years, I continue to find these ideas to be very inspiring.
If we do not have a core value around waking up and knowing thy self, then we may play the blame game blaming others for why we are upset. Michael Brown, the author of the Presence Process has a great definition for being upset. He says the universe has set you up to look at yourself and own your own stuff. The ego tends to resist this process because it wants to be right. In classical Yoga philosophy, the ego is called the Ahamkara or I-Maker. My experience of Ahamkara is the I trouble-maker!
I have learned and continue to learn a lot about myself through the practice of tapas. If you practice postural yoga, are there challenging postures you resist or avoid? When you are holding a posture, do you sometimes check out thinking about the past or future? This might be a time to explore the origin of the resistance. The yoga mat or meditation cushion can be a mirror reflecting our mentally conditioned habits. The practice can be to identify through the tapas of the moment the habits or samskaras that are not serving us well anymore. The positive habits or samskaras can lead to a calm and alert mind and an open loving heart. Getting to the mat or meditation cushion can feel like tapas sometimes yet these positive habits can bear life-changing fruit.
Find a postural yoga teacher who can help you skillfully navigate self-awareness practices on the mat. This method goes beyond the inspiration of the day theme at the start of class.
Ishvarapranidhana or surrender can be a wonderful complement to tapas. To learn more go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishvarapranidhana. Recall days when you felt like you were flowing with creativity and ideas were coming to you without effort. Or you let go of trying to control outcomes and plans and were open to spontaneity. Maybe you have had moments of synchronicity. Have you ever prayed for direction or for thy will be done instead of my will be done? Were your prayers answered in unforeseen ways? Have you started the day with a plan then when reviewing your day prior to sleep, you realized by letting go of control, you followed a more fulfilling plan?
These are examples of Ishvarapranidhana. Ishvara means Lord, God, the Divine with from or the Supreme Cosmic Soul. The root is’ means to have extraordinary power and sovereignty. Ishta Devata is one’s chosen deity. It could be the formless absolute like nature or a form like Jesus, Krishna or Buddha. In recovery groups, they talk about a higher power of your understanding. One practice is to ask for guidance like what would you have me do next? You are asking your Ishta for help. One understanding of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1:23 is when all effort fails to ask for help. In this sutra, Patanjali says the goal of Yoga (1:2) can be realized by the grace of God. For the first time, the theistic or Bhakti Yoga aspect of the sutras is included.
This is why I love Raja Yoga. He brings in elements of Bhakti, Karma and Jnana Yoga within the context of very detailed insights into the psychology of the mind. The royal path indeed.
I was 22 when I got married. We shared some values like living a natural lifestyle, focusing on spiritual growth and not getting caught up in materialism. We liked to read and watch Masterpiece Theatre. However, those values were not sustainable. We had very different communication styles and I had more interests in music and culture in general. I also had a value around travel and change. She was quite happy to live on the same street the rest of her life.
She was raised Catholic and blue-collar. She was inspired by the Catholic contemplative tradition and was devotional. I was raised fundamentalist Christian and white collar. I was by nature a Raja and Jnana Yogi and my devotion or Bhakti at the time was based in nature. I was trying to understand how to connect to a form of the Divine. I was in recovery from the wrathful and judgmental God of my upbringing and had explored atheistic, agnostic and existential world views. My experiences in meditation had shook up these views as I realized I was more than the body and mind and if I was then everyone else was to.
Zen had taught me that even if there was no higher power and mystical experiences were just another form of delusion, you could still experience inner peace.
Then we had five kids in seven years including two complicated pregnancies and one premature baby with developmental challenges. He was number four and did not start talking until he was about four. He yelled a lot. I would come home from work and understandably mom would be at wit’s end. I helped out a lot and was a very present dad when I was not working.
I found being in the place of the witness was very grounding. It gave me a tool to regulate my emotions. I was not always successful but it gave me a way to manage my stress. Mantra Yoga which I could do as Japa (mental repetition of a mantra) when doing other things, or when not using the mind for a constructive purpose, was a lifesaver. Mindfulness which you can practice in each moment gave me another tool for retaining some composure. I could do these while changing diapers, giving a bath or cooking.
Being a devout Catholic, she did not believe in birth control except for the Vatican sanctioned rhythm method which did not work too well for us. After the fifth child, I chose a different approach. She didn’t seem to mind.
We had agreed that one of us would be at home with the kids until they were older. I began to find work in helping others. We were co-parents at a group home for runaway teenagers. I taught them organic gardening and took them hiking and fishing. We had our first child who is now 40! Caring for a baby and being a house mom was too much for her so we left after a year. I began the difficult task of selling myself as a counselor and social worker with a BA in Arts and Humanities.
I was also beginning to publish work as a freelance writer. I worked for the Gertrude Barber Center, the YMCA, and the Millcreek Township Diversion program. I started my version of an Outward Bound backpacking program for Millcreek teenagers who were “status offenders”. They had skipped school or were arrested for underage drinking or smoking marijuana. I worked with an excellent therapist and the combination of therapy and activities was very successful. Unfortunately, the government funds were cut and I was laid off.
I was still writing and had developed a portfolio that got me into the field of communications and so for the next 11 years, I worked in public relations, advertising, and marketing. Based on my reviews, I was able to do this work well but it was not my passion. I knew teaching yoga was my passion and I enjoyed teaching it as an avocation at home. How it became a vocation was nothing short of a miracle to me.
Our marriage lasted for 15 years. We struggled financially. We attempted to connect on a spiritual level first at the House of Prayer. We would attend weekly scripture study classes. We studied St. Ignatius’s spiritual exercises. They were a wonderful discovery for me. To learn more go to http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/making-good-decisions/discernment-of-spirits/rules-for-discernment.
I was coping with the stress of work and the chaos of kids by listening to lots of music, reading, hiking, backpacking, watching TV, and smoking marijuana when I could afford it which was not often, praying, practicing Japa and mindfulness and meditating. She coped through reading, praying, meditating, journaling and wanting to be by herself. We were drifting apart.
My intention to raise children to become positive citizens was being tested. At 22, I knew I was self-centered. I knew having children would force me to not think of myself and would whittle down my ego. I also wanted to love unconditionally. I was idealistic and naïve. This was Karma Yoga or selfless service at a high level. I knew about Karma Yoga from the Bhagavad Gita and the idea of surrender in the Sutras but practicing working without looking for anything in return was challenging. This was hard work and I grew tired and weary. I was so young.
I was a boy trying to raise four boys and a girl. This was Tapas and Ishvaripranidhana on steroids! I was learning a lot about my attachments and desires. Tapas can mean when the going gets tough the tough keep going but I was not tough enough. I had to surrender a lot and hope grace would bail me out. I cried myself to sleep many times. I just wanted to numb out and escape but I loved my kids. Having fun was usually with the kids or some friends at work. My wife and I did not go out on regular dates. We would see a movie in a blue moon and didn’t have to talk. Our marriage was mostly about the kids.
We were going to a Catholic service on Sundays, but I had difficulties with the somber singing. I remembered going to Baptist services in West Virginia as a child and the place rocked with passionate devotional singing. It was also well known that the priest had a concubine. Who was I to judge, though it was difficult hearing him talk about marriage when my experience was very different from his homilies. He lacked credibility for me and I eventually dropped out.
In 1982, we agreed to open the Kensho Meditation Center out of our living room. For me, Kensho means the first initial awakening of our true nature. It is gaining insight into seeing clearly without preconceptions. I was familiar with the word and concept from my readings in the wisdom tradition of Buddhism, Vedanta, and contemporaries like Alan Watts. To learn more go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kensh%C5%8D.
We chose separate nights and led our own small groups. She would lead a meditation then chat with her friends and offer tea. I would do the same but also offered gentle Hatha yoga. I had several books on Hatha and some experience from the Y and television classes but I was struggling to find a sequence that would prepare us for meditation. At that time my inconsistent practice would be a few poses or sun salutes then meditate. I found a book titled the Age of Aquarius. It was a compendium of New Age and alternative modalities. There were chapters on diet, herbs, massage, aromatherapy, meditation and a few pages of the Integral Yoga Hatha 1 sequence.
I knew of the founder Swami Satchidananda’s connection to the Sivananda lineage and Woodstock. He gave the invocation at Woodstock and taught the baby boomers how to chant Om and Om Shanti. It has been said his peaceful presence helped to make Woodstock more harmonious. I began to practice the sequence and gathered alignment details from my other books. It was like the Vishnudevananda sequence but in reverse. Year’s later an “angel” would make it possible for me to become trained and certified in a month-long residential program at his ashram in Yogaville, Virginia.
We would practice about 45 minutes of this sequence then sit for 15 minutes of Zen meditation and enjoy tea and conversation. It was lovely and brought some sanity to my life. I offered this occasionally for the next four years. Thanks to my Dad who helped us with a down payment, we lived in a three story Victorian in town that allowed some privacy for our living room programs while the kids played elsewhere. I loved offering these classes for free as a Karma Yoga practice but never dreamed it would be possible to do this for my livelihood.
In 1985, a friend of my wife’s introduced her to Gurumayi, the head of Siddha Yoga. The “Guru” years would become a focus of my sadhana until 1991 when I chose to leave the organization, though I continued to receive their correspondence course until I had completed twelve years of it. Twelve is a number of completion in Yoga. I experienced many amazing adventures as the “mystical” became commonplace.