Happy Week of Love!
I try to think of this week as an opportunity to honor love in it's many forms and although the Hallmark Holiday has us thinking that it's all about romantic love, roses and happy couples, it's also a reminder to love ourselves above all other things and to love ourselves enough to keep getting to know, deeply, the amazing beings that we are and to take the time to quiet the mind and LISTEN to what is happening on the inside. In our culture we tend to strongly emphasize the outside: Appearance, looks, clothing, hair, status, what car we drive and how we 'appear' on the outside. When all the while, inside, our hearts are calling out to us, asking us to tune in and respond. Will we listen to that call?
I was recently inspired by a dharma talk by one of my favorite American Buddhist Teachers, Tara Brach entitled, Listening to the Call of Our Hearts. She tells the story of a poor street merchant who looked outside of his shop and saw a beautiful, radiant bodhisattva (enlightened being) walk by. He was so taken by the bodhisattva that he felt deeply called to follow him. He left his shop and started wandering after this radiant spirit. Just as he was about to take another step forward, the earth shook and opened and out of the ground appeared Mara. Mara, in Buddhist spirituality, is the great 'Tempter' and also represents our 'Shadow'. In a very famous story, on the night of the Buddha's enlightenment, Mara sends all kinds of wild temptations and hindrances to terrorize the awakening Siddhartha and try to knock him off his seat and scare him from becoming enlightened. But back to our street merchant...
So Mara appears to the street merchant and of course the merchant is terrified and almost turns back to go home and back to his shop. The demon Mara says things like, 'Who do you think you are, you're not cut out for this, you should turn back, what if you can't make it, what if you fail?' and the most insidious of all, 'You aren't good enough and you're not going to do it right.' Sound at all familiar? Yes, the bodhisattva here represents that light of truth or that one thing (or many things) that compels us to follow it. Like a longing we might have to see the world, or to start our own business or to just live in our deepest heart as much as we can. The merchant, of course is us and Mara is all the doubts and fears that arise when we are taking bold steps on behalf of our lives and our hearts. Mara also makes itself known as the voices we have internalized from our parents, families of origin or culture that tell us, 'Stop! Go back! It's not safe! If you stay safe, you won't fail, and really my friend, to be honest, you're not really cut out for this anyhow. You aren't good enough!'
We've probably have all had numerous encounters with Mara along our path and the important thing is, to recognize Mara for who he/she/it is, which is to say not REAL, but a construct of the mind. And, also to know that our own Shadow is a true blessing, Mara is a blessing as our deepest shadow parts help us to birth ourselves into the light. Yes, we can recognize, integrate and heal the shadow inside of ourselves and use it for our own deepest growth and learning and let it propel us forward. When the shadow is integrated and healed, we might find ourselves leading lives that feel more aligned, truer, more whole and at the same time vibrant and dynamic. We can either see that every situation offered to us in life is against us for actually FOR US. We can choose to be a victim of life or a VICTOR.
So at this time of year when we may have forgotten the intentions and aspirations that we created around the New Year, may we take a moment to pause and tune back into our hearts. What is your aspiration or intention? When you see that illuminated being (in the form of your own longing) walking by your shop as you are sweeping the floor, head down, do you get up and follow or do you play it safe? May we reinvigorate our aspirations and notice the truth and love in our hearts this Valentine's Day. Oh and by the way, the street merchant did keep going. He took one more step toward the shadow demon Mara and suddenly the earth closed up, the sun came out and he himself became a bodhisattva. Now that's a beautiful self-love story! Happy V-Day my friends.
Asana Suggestions: Practice Bhumi-Sparsha Mudra (earth touching Mudra- see image below) which is a gesture to cultivate steadfastness in the face of the shadow, and unshakability. Choose either a heart-opening sequence or postures that ground us deeply into our legs, feet and roots, thereby cultivating deep faith in ourselves and steadfastness on our path.
Contemplations to Deepen Your Practice:
* After hearing the story of the street merchant, take a breath and contemplate how the story relates to your heart in the moment. What is calling out to you?
* Today, as you go throughout your day, notice any visitations from Mara. How does Mara appear most often to you? Is it as a little voice of doubt or a wave of shame or fear? Notice with compassion.
* Invite Mara in for 'tea and conversation'. Pull out your journal and have a little dialogue with Mara or get snuggly with Mara in meditation and ask Mara what it wants to show you or teach you? There is a great practice that you might look into called, 'Feeding the Demons'.
* Change your thinking: Maybe the appearance of Mara is a real gift to you. Perhaps Mara is (in the words of Rumi) 'clearing you out for some new delight.' What might look like a major hindrance or set-back could be a true break-through or an opportunity to start fresh.
* Can you recall one of your New Year's resolutions or intentions? What was it? Does it still feel alive and vibrant for you or would you like to create some new intentions?
Taken from Tara Brach's talk which I refereed to above:
'Walk on, walk on through all the fears and difficulties and you will know a freedom and peace, beyond all imagining. Follow the call of your heart.'
Earth-witnessing or touching the earth mudra
This is a wonderful mudra to practice when you need to ground, center and root into your deepest truth or calling. The earth bears witness for you. The left hand is face up on your lap and the right hand fingers touch down to the earth. Try this for a few moments today.