Clearly, we've asked for your attention. It takes your time and focus to read this article. It takes your interest in order to open this newsletter, study a topic, or have a real communication. So, what are you giving your attention to these days, and how completely? Have you actually, consciously, followed the multitude of places your mind travels to when you open your iphone and tablet? Or do you unconsciously let your fingers do the walking falling down the rabbit hole of infinite minutiae?
If your interest runs towards consciousness, check out the book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, by historian, Yuval Harari. In his book, Yuval, who also invests his time in meditation, explores some of the big concepts of our current moment in history. You might also appreciate listening to the talk Yuval gave at Google earlier this year on his book and the areas of tech and ethics, or listen to any of his many YouTube talks.
In a time of general overwhelm when every millisecond something is vying for your attention--and everything about you is becoming commoditized--your time and attention are valuable. But hopefully, they are most valuable to you. If you feel your head is barely staying above the virtual clutter, and you find yourself on auto-pilot, lost in a continual loop, or you are not self aware, it's time to reevaluate where you are spending your time, and what your consciousness is invested in.
Science, history, and technology are sorely lacking without the investigation into knowing ourselves--who we are as humans and as individuals. As habitual creatures it is easy to get lost in unexamined repetitive behavior and in the plethora of shiny objects set to attract us. It is commonplace to become anxiety ridden by the to-do list that never ends. Where does making space in the brain begin? Where does your compassion for yourself and others evolve from?
Harari comments that our brains are being hacked constantly, and with the development of technology, companies know us better than we know ourselves. These entities are tapped into our internal dialogue more, and maybe even better than we are. We are apparently quite easy to hack. And in that hack, we are being directed towards consumerism, not compassion. Some hacks are intentionally tapping into our emotional centers and the mechanisms in the brain that trigger us towards fear and separation.
Self-knowledge and self-awareness are critical for compassion, and without consciously unhooking from those things set to keep us perpetually in a loop, we cannot experience and integrate moving from a deeply connected interior space. Meditation is paying attention, or even better expressed by J Krishnamurti, meditation is choiceless awareness.
In listening to Harari, it seems that one of the ironies we face as a human species is, that as AI becomes more prevalent and its bond with biotech becomes more relevant, things like greater longevity become more attainable, but we become more irrelevant.
So then, the great koan of how to be, and who we be, remains most relevant. Therefore, we invite you to pay attention--to everything.
The Swami and the Zen Master
On a visit to Los Angeles, Swami Venketesa, one of my beloved teachers and mentors, asked me to take him to meet Zen master Roshi Sasaki. I had met the Roshi, who later became Leonard Cohen’s teacher, when he first arrived in Los Angeles in 1966. Just getting attracted to eastern philosophy, I heard about these Zen gatherings and went to sit with the Roshi. The dimly lit room was filled with meditators sitting bolt upright, motionless like statues. Every twenty or thirty minutes we would stand, quietly queue up, and take turns sitting before the sage.
On my first turn in front of him, I asked, “What do I do when I sit, Roshi?”
“Just sit there”, said the Roshi, “Roshi says just sit.”
Swami Venkates always enjoyed meeting other spiritual teachers so I set up an audience. I drove my Swami down Crenshaw Boulevard excited to witness their encounter. We walked in and the Roshi, sitting on the floor, motioned us to sit next to him. With a radiant smile that seemed to cover half his face, Swamiji laughed as he sat down. Roshi joined him with some kindred belly laughter which quickly accelerated and consumed the small group of us sitting in the room.
Still laughing, the Roshi exclaimed, “Your laugh shows that you are enlightened!” and they both laughed even more hysterically. After a short while the Swami and the Zen master hugged and we left.
Roshi Sasaki lived and taught in Los Angeles to the ripe old age of 107. Venkatesa passed at the early age of 60. Both their presence and teachings continue to inspire spiritual consciousness.
Time, everything, is relative. As Albert Einstein showed us, "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute."
Our 50 years at White Lotus is both a flash and an eternity at the same time. And I've certainly been sitting with a pretty girl for what now seems like a minute. Tracey and I have been blessed to live by the sea and in a sea of Yoga. It has been an honor and inspiration filled with a fair measure of perspiration. Creating the Santa Barbara Ashram--a place where yogis live, work and teach, fulfilled a long vision and goal filled with spirit. Taklushmon, which means the gathering place, is what the Chumash called this land. We live and teach in this gathering place of spirit and flowing water, flowing yoga, and the guests and teachers gracefully flowing in through from every walk of life. This is also the meaning of Satsang, one of the tenets of Yoga, gathering with good, true people.
As Professor Needleman and J. Krishnamurti said a few decades ago:
Needleman: [...] I was reading a book the other day which spoke of something called "Satsang".
Krishnamurti: Do you know what it means?
Needleman: Association with the wise.
Krishnamurti: No, with good people.
Needleman: With good people, Ah!
Krishnamurti: Being good you are wise. Not, being wise you are good.
Needleman: I understand that.
Krishnamurti: Because you are good, you are wise.
From the numinous to the singular
From the spectrum to the speck
From the tarnished to the luminous
The onus is on us
Spirituality is not simply a mechanical process and not something finally obtained or acquired. Important elements contribute to spirituality, such as ethical behavior, right living, right livelihood, caring, and compassion, but the deepest essence lives beyond practices, beliefs, descriptions, and words. It is not advisable to explain or define spirituality with too much detail, and it cannot be captured, owned, or stored up. Ironically, the Sanskrit word for illusion, maya, also means to measure and to define. When we measure and overly structure spirit, we may lose it.
Advancing in yoga is more related to refining than to attaining. If you want to know if you are advancing in yoga, ask yourself these questions: Are you gaining greater understanding of your body? Are you learning how to heal yourself? Are you learning subtler and different ways of using the poses and how each asana affects the body to produce different results? Are you gaining an understanding of the energy fields in the body and how these energies flow? Are you beginning to get some control of your own autonomic nervous system and some of the unconscious processes of the body? Are you less rigid in your beliefs and less fixed in particular systems and structures? Are you alive and awake in your practice, constantly questioning and willing to get off your position—figuratively and actually? Are you questioning, not only of others but of yourself? Is your mind becoming more open, compassionate, more peaceful? Growing in these perceptions and capacities provides the necessary ingredients for the evolutionary process of alchemical transformation into radiant health, higher consciousness and wisdom.
It is easier to see problems in someone other than oneself. We all know people who knock on our door with bibles. They’re very certain. They are living in their certainties, but if we look outside our own worldviews, and look at beliefs distant from ours, it can begin to open our minds. The wise person starts asking, “How does this problem apply to me?” Where do I have a similar belief that I am not aware of or that I am stuck in?
I had a wise teacher who said that "not knowing" is one of the highest states of awareness. We need to free ourselves from the limitations of knowledge. This doesn't mean getting rid of knowledge—knowledge is extremely necessary of course, but rather, we should not be stuck in the known. We need to be open to the unknown. The unknown can be terrifying, but if we don't stay open to the unknown, our terror is still there—it's just hidden. The demons of fear and certainty stand guard at the door of self-knowledge.
Certainty may be what we want, but relativity is what we’ve got! The unknown is the source of joy and adventure. Do you want to know how the movie ends? Or “who did it?” We are told and conditioned, in some philosophies, to believe that we can get to a place of all-knowing. By acknowledging that there's no such thing, that knowledge always has limits, we gain freedom. Then we are living with perception and insight in the moment.
"Yoga is practiced and celebrated around the globe because of the positive difference it generates--physically, mentally, psychologically and spiritually. It continues to evolve as it has moved from East to West and back again. This is also because there is no one form of yoga but it is rather like the petals of the lotus flower, with its many branches and approaches. With a good teacher, yoga asana and breath work are infinitely adjustable to any age or stage, and from the bed ridden to the athlete. The essence of yoga is about consciousness, self study, reflection, and the full exploration of living and dying. It has the goal and intent of opening the mind and heart to insight, love and compassion bringing the perception that your life is your meditation. Many begin yoga for reasons health, fitness and physical wellness and this often expands to need for service in the world and care for our planet. Yoga has permeated many levels of our culture and continues to grow as it serves individual and general well being." --Ganga White
Note: White Lotus, Ganga and Tracey are featured in NewsWeek: https://tinyurl.com/NEWSWEEK-white-lotus