Beginning of a new era

I’m going to update this once a week to see if I can get a couple of ideas across. I’m going to keep going, expressing the ideas in as many ways as I can think of, until at least one person shows that they have understood what I mean. I’m not quite sure how this will happen.

This is also a gentle reminder that I’m looking for a job, something permanent, or at least long-term, reasonably well paid, interesting, requiring intelligence, focus and the capacity to solve big problems, that I will work hard at, putting in long hours of focus, whether travelling or work from home, prepared to meet people from all and any background, or work alone. I can then practice and teach yoga without the need to ‘monetarise’ the process, which will be liberating. Work can involve all or any of my following skills: facilitating or chairing meetings, event management, programme management, proofreading, editing, critical analysis, qualitative data collection, report-writing, research, reviewing literature, meeting and greeting, mindfulness research, practice and/or training, communications teaching, listening for a change.

I’m also (in no particular order) reasonably adept at shooting, sailing, ski instructing, cooking, English language teaching, relationships, travelling and living with minimal infrastructure, outdoor pursuits, gardening, painting, pottery, drawing, interior design, dancing, singing, writing (fiction or non-fiction), and wood-carving.

I’m willing to learn most other skills, but I would be really grateful for help with the formal requirements for accounting, budgeting, managing money, goods, and services, (I’d also be interested in lessons in baking, cocktail preparation, sewing, and the art of war).

Let me know if you think I might suit your needs.

When someone comes to me at the end of a yoga class and says ‘I feel wonderful! So open! So blissed out! So loose and alive!’ my instinct is to be glad. However, I am also inclined to sound a note of caution. The wonderful euphoria you feel when you are open is also the state in which you expose all your vulnerabilities, your sensitivity. Whatever happens to you in this state can be deeply resonant, and you can learn a great deal from your experience. In a sense, it is as though you are holding your arms open to the universe and saying, ‘teach me!’

Obviously, opening yourself to the current stream of activity can expose you to intense experiences that you might otherwise be able to ignore, or simply not notice. Intense experience is another way of understanding pain. You need to be responsible, in every sense, for yourself in this state. No need to close up; learning to stay this open, this receptive, is entirely healthy and will enrich your experience at every level. Just make every effort to stay entirely focused on the state you are in, on what is going on, including staying aware of your breath, the shape you’re in (your posture, for instance) and even your attitude. Watch the way the state changes, even as you observe it, like light moving on water. Expect the unexpected and keep a compassionate outlook, even if you land with a crash. You will find your resilience deepens with practice. You will be clearer, more honest, and your empathy will broaden every time. This is the skill of wisdom in action: to watch, but not to make judgment; to feel, but without clinging to what is felt.

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Yoga with Lucy: Compassion in Action!

Here are details of my ongoing Yoga classes here in beautiful Erris:

IWA centre, upstairs (there’s a lift if you need it), 7.30-8.45pm, all classes now fully booked but call if you want to see if there’s room to drop in (drop in rates: 10 euro per night):

Monday: deep stretch, deep relaxation

Tuesday: beginners gentle introductory practice (focusing on strengthening the core, and balance)

Wednesday: vinyasa flow practice (stronger physical practice: you will get hot!)

Please feel free if you want to enquire about one-to-one sessions; I’m also gathering names for people who might be interested in doing Yoga while they are pregnant (based on Janet Balaskas’ work): let me know if you are one of these!

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Chill out with compassionate Yoga before Christmas

Christmas can be (ironically) a time of great stress and anxiety, particularly around giving gifts, relationships between family and friends, even the relationship you have with food and drink. So practicing Yoga can offer a serious solution to the question, how do I step back from all this madness??

That is why I’m offering two compassion stretch Yoga sessions in the IWA building in Belmullet on Sunday 21 December 9.30 – 11am and Tuesday 23 December 7.30-8.45pm (yes, really!). There will be a donations box with donations to be divided between NW Mayo SPCA and the IWA and I will take 20 euro from each session for my own costs. I would dearly love to see you there and to challenge the stress, anxiety and focus on stuff that can grow and overtake the joyful compassion that is at the heart of Christmas. So, bring your mats, and get ready to practice compassionate stretching of mind, body and breath!
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Appreciation as the dark encloses everything

What is Yoga? More, what is the point in doing Yoga, particularly in a world where there is so much suffering, where so many people, animals, bio-, and even geosystems are treated by so many people as disposal, expendable, of value only to the extent that some use can be squeezed out of them, then to be discarded? What use is Yoga in a time and place where humans create political, social and economic systems that engender violence, that patently and explicitly don’t allow the vast majority of people to support themselves in any dignified sense? What’s the point in lying in savasana on the ground watching your breath or stretching yourself into difficult and demanding positions while wars rage and ecosytems collapse, while the suffering of humans, and of other creatures, just seems to intensify as time goes on?

I would say that the point of doing Yoga – and this is only my only interpretation  – is that it allows you to become more compassionate about the situation that you find yourself in, and that this compassion extends endlessly. You practice Yoga not in a passive way, not as a form of escapism (although a lot of people, I notice, come to Yoga as a way of escaping, and see their weekly class as a sanctuary hiding them away from the rest of their difficult and demanding lives). But actually Yoga is a practice that allows one to become more compassionate, and therefore more able to confront the reality of all areas of one’s life.

Compassion is not a passive attitude. It doesn’t mean that we simply acknowledge and allow that everything that is happening is perfect just as it is. However, in a sense, radical self acceptance, radical acceptance of the situation we are in,  is the fundamental point at which we must start before anything can shift. It is through this radical acceptance that we learn the importance of the way of observation, that is, of the manner, the attitude, with which we come to observe, and comment on, and respond to the situations we are in,  intimate and distant. We learn very soon, and very clearly, that silence implies complicity, but also that rage, denial, blame and other means of deflecting attention from our own involvement are also acts of complicity.

What we need to learn to bring to light, without fear, anger, blame, or other incendiary attitudes, are all those systems we are involved in that do not allow us to take personal responsibility for our own situations, that deprive us of the opportunity to really experience what it’s like to be self responsible and autonomous, that limit the availability of foodstuffs that we have an opportunity to consume to foods that are violently produced in factory farms, or foodstuffs that have not sustained the soil and so are constantly depleting the source of that system of nutrition. We need to find a way to highlight how we are forced to use transport and energy forms that are exploitative and destructive, from production to manufacturing. For many of us, pointing this out has caused us great anger and great misery. To know that we are enmeshed in these systems, in turn, causes us to manifest this rage as screaming, swearing, or other more violent reactions, or withdrawal, addiction, depression, and these take a toll particularly (sadly) within the relationships we are most invested in. This is tragic. But I would venture, even at this dark moment, that Yoga can help.

Yoga has an important place in the kind of society we now find ourselves in. Without blame, without even evaluating whether what we are involved in is good or bad, Yoga is the practice of recognising that there are things that are good for the systems on which we depend. It is a practice of unblocking systems, and we can instantly recognise that this is mirrored in how we make the effort not to destroy the larger systems we depend upon, particularly richly biodiverse systems, because we need their graduated flow for our own survival.

The personal aspect reflects the social, and the social aspect reflects the environmental: what we do in one arena is always, in a sense, a mirror of what we do in another. Yoga gives an opportunity to practice and reflect on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it very honestly, from how we hold ourselves physically, to how we respond with our breath, to what is engaging us psychologically: where our minds are at. When we reflect very authentically, with great integrity, on what is occupying us, whether lust, greed, anger, hate, or even love, or joy, we become more skillful, through practice, at stepping back to compassionately observe the situation. The practice itself becomes a way of doing that enriches how we experience each step, each breath, each word, spoken and heard, each sight of clouds, sun or rain, each smell of the sea.

So, to conclude, I would just like to suggest that you find a way of practicing this mindful activity of watching as you move, as you hold yourself in one position and move into another, and this is enough, this is already asana practice. If you listen to, and then find yourself changing how you breathe (or, more accurately, find your breath regulating itself), then you are already practicing pranayama, breath control. If you practice focusing your attention on your senses, then, paradoxically, you are already practicing pratyahara, sense withdrawal, and if you practice watching your thoughts, and find the spaces between them developing and deepening, even as you stay fully aware and conscious of all that is happening, just as it is happening, then you have managed to achieve a state of dhayana, deep meditative, present awareness, in which stepping back happens all by itself.

To conclude, then, I wish you deep release from the suffering that is in your life, and I wish you to forgive yourself because the first step is always to realise, to become conscious of, the interconnectedness that automatically and inevitably implies that one action creates another, and forgiveness implies you are prepared to let go of this inevitability. I hope that the awareness of the interactivity of all that you are involved in becomes clearer and clearer to you, and that through this awareness, you manage, and have the strength to muster the great effort of attentiveness that is required in order to climb clear enough of your involvement to see it for what it is. Realising is a narrow band of awareness but it is the element you do have the capacity to alter. Simply through bringing your full awareness to this, just this, as it is, you turn reaction into realisation, and realisation is the key to self-responsibility, in which you become the creator of a revolutionary attitude, the attitude of total, honest compassion.

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Christmas compassion stretch!

Would anyone be interested in attending a yoga class with me in preparation for chilling out over Christmas? Either Sun 21 Dec 9.30-11, Tues 23 9.30-11, or in the evening of either of those two dates? Donations to be divided between IWA and Mayo SPCA. I will take 20 euro for my own costs. No pressure – I’m just exploring ideas at the moment but let me know your thoughts.

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Complementary Yoga

Could you use the practice of Yoga asana, pranayama and yoga nidra (as well as kriyas, nauli, sankalpa and other key practice elements) to complement your sports practice? Not really. It might be true that sports stars like Murray, the Williams sisters or various world famous teams practice Yoga asana, but actually, it is the sport that compliments the Yoga, not the other way around.

Yoga, as the Way of practice, allows you to become radically self aware (more or less) in the moment that existence is taking place. And this kind of complete awareness, along with the physical strength and flexibility, the speed and endurance, in other words the physical, but also the psychological, stamina required to remain entirely able to see what is happening as though from without the experience, even though intimately embedded within experience, is exactly what ‘being in the flow’ is. Which is what sports experts require if they are to hope to succeed in their game.

The trouble is, practice Yoga deeply enough, and the idea of competition becomes laughable. The other is oneself: although the interchange of energy between different aspects of existence is the whole heart of existence, the flux and dynamism that brings phenomena into being, still it would make no sense to take the whole process of a competition seriously. Yet perhaps this attitude, too, would give a winning edge, since by being able to see the sheer futility, and therefore, in essence, the playfulness, of the exchange, one would be less invested in the result, and therefore, of course, more able to maintain a slight detachment, a clearer focus.

Yoga practitioners happen to excel at sport. The two are inextricably caught up in one another when the practitioner is ‘in the flow’ of experience. They may not have called what they were doing ‘Yoga’, though. In another inversion, though, we must consider not that we are doing Yoga, but that Yoga, the system that is a practice, a way, of shifting our perception of existence to include wider and wider interrelationships, is doing us.

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Trouble at ‘Mill

I’m having trouble moving documents about in this and my other website. It seems I have to learn how to use algorithms if I want to do it properly (or ‘categories’, which are equally obscure or at least dull to me). I am, therefore, afraid that I have inadvertently made it difficult to find some pieces I’ve written that people liked (or at least one piece…) I can only ask for forgiveness at this stage. I’m working on content at the moment. When I’ve managed to put together some more work that I want to share, I’ll then work out how I can best make it accessible to the few who might be interested in reading/ watching (I took down all the youtube videos I’d posted because I was having problems getting them to load, and have spent much time attempting to reformulate them so that they are easier to access, but, again, I’ve had the same sort of problem with technical issues, mostly to do with not having enough money to buy software to be able to be led along easily.) But that’s the beauty of poverty and, in Zizek’s terms, disposability: it forces one to be extremely creative. Until, of course, one runs out of steam…

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Monday: deep stretch

I’m working on it, folks! Trying to learn how to make a thumbnail. Let me know if this works.

deepstretch

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Understanding Yoga as a moving meditation in compassion

Yoga is at the boundary between physical exercise or movement for health, on the one hand, and self-reflective meditation, on the other. It is precisely because this line, this boundary, is so difficult to define, because it is the borderline between what we think of as the physical, and what we think of as the mental, or psychological, that Yoga is such a powerful practice. Yoga uses the technique of bringing your breathing to the foreground of your attention both during movement and while you hold still in a posture. During practice, you are not repressing or attempting to ignore all the other activity that goes on, but you are focusing on the breath so that everything else becomes the background. This shifts the relationships within physical and psychological systems.

The effect is much broader than on just your physical body, or your emotional state, however.  You might find that there is a shift in your physical relationships, in other words, how the body parts relate to one another, as you become stronger and more flexible (but be aware that you can injure yourself as easily in a yoga class as you can in any other exercise class, if you behave irresponsibly and don’t take your own existing conditions into account!). You may also find that you develop more appreciation of how your psychological condition arises, and this can give a much needed space between action and reaction – you may find that you become more honest about how you feel, but that you become less reactive as you begin to recognise different emotional states arising but develop the capacity to step back and compassionately observe how this happens. Again, however, let’s not pretend that this is either a miraculous cure for all our relationships, or that we are on a ladder to harmony. Yoga is the embrace of impermanence, and of imperfection, accepting this state right now, just as it is. It requires tremendous effort to keep our focus on what is happening, as it is happening, and yoga practitioners, just like anyone else, can become overwhelmed. Humility, compassion and forgiveness are, therefore, essential attitudes to cultivate towards yourself and others during formal practice and as you go about the rest of the day.

However, a really effective yoga practice shows its effectiveness in how you relate to a much broader context: your social world, but also the ecological context. By the ecological context, I don’t just mean what’s around us, but also what is within us. So Yoga affects how we relate to what we eat. That doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a vegetarian, but it does mean reflecting on what you eat, and drink, and why. Maybe you hadn’t thought about what is involved in factory farming to produce cheap chicken. Even just beginning that discussion is a start. Can you eat it one less time per week? Can you look at alternatives? I know very well how difficult it is to loosen the ties that bind us to particular habits and activities, and Yoga is entirely about taking personal responsibility, not about judging others. But it’s amazing what happens when people start to look for other ways of doing things, ways that include developing local, humane farming techniques that respect animals and the land, projects that include looking for ways to restore and protect biodiversity, ways to clothe ourselves and use technology that relies less on exploitation and that feeds less into the overall profits of big business, and more into taking part in a discussion about tackling global poverty that is often caused by exploitation and greed.

Is Yoga political? Not unless you want it to be, but it is revolutionary because it turns your picture of yourself as a separable individual who makes decisions that only affect yourself around. You begin to recognise that what you do, every act, has an impact, however miniscule, on every other act, and every relationship. Sometimes people say, Yoga? It’s not for me. It’s too slow. I want to do something fast. Well, OK (but there are so many varieties of class you can take that this isn’t an accurate understanding of what is available). Others say, Yoga? I’d never get my leg around the back of my head! Again, this is a misconception: Yoga is about making you more flexible – but that’s much more about becoming responsive and responsible in your attitude than it is about physical flexibility. Someone once said to me: to practice yoga, all you need is a body, any kind of body, the ability to breathe, and the ability to be aware of your body and your breath. Unless you are unconscious, you have this ability and so you can practice yoga.

One last thing: what I call Yoga might not be the same as what other people call Yoga. I don’t talk about chakras in my class (these are a number – usually seven – of wheels of energy associated with various points along the spine) or if I do, I use them as metaphors for different aspects of our experience. I think a lot of the ideas that have come to us from old texts were ways for ancient peoples to explain our physical experience to ourselves – but that scientific knowledge has developed considerably since then, and we need to include new information in our understanding and not get stuck on tradition just for the sake of it. I’m also unusually non-dualistic for a Yoga teacher. I don’t think there are two states, body and mind, the material world and the spiritual world, the imperfect present and some perfect realm elsewhere (or, to put it in religious language, heaven and earth). I know that a lot of Yoga teachers do believe this, and I know that my understanding is not conventional. But I have thought deeply about these things and even written a PhD thesis about it, so it’s not something I came to without some work.

However, in the final analysis, Yoga, for me, is not a religion, and not a theory about how to live, but a practice. While religions often attempt to convert people to their cause, or say that this way is right, and that is wrong, Yoga says, do what else you want, but the only way to understand Yoga is to practice this way of experiencing your body and your breath. Practice, and understanding, and change, automatically follow.  Whether or not you decide to practice is something only you can decide.

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Improvidence

Now, I can never be apart from this,

I am the beating hammer to a gripped tongs,

with which this gate is shaped into a shield, a mirror,

gone. Smashed like the surface of a pool broken by a thrown

stone, a way to pass into

oneself, an attitude behind the smile, a taste

in the mouth, the thoughtless breath, the forgotten

moment. I am that. I am in between

each thought, I light the eyes, I glint

on the blade, I shuffle under

skin, into consciousness that this is

passing, that each unique moment’s

movement is, in an instant,

gone. I am time, running

backwards, the cold candle

reforming itself from the melting

heat, the flown effect

creating the spiderweb of cause.

Although I have never been more completely

alone, this bright awareness still

reverberates in every cell. And I am

grateful that I no longer

belong to myself. It is another’s

height, breadth, and breath

that has become the measure of me and I, like

Neurath’s ship, am in all substance changed.

This has inevitably been my

undoing, and I run to burn

out the indivisible light, to make

space for this great blow that has my

circulation leaching with every pulse.

I watch myself as a stranger,

surprised by this choice,

this, the way of compassion

ignited by shuddering joy and burning

loss. There is no place

for this, it is love

orchestrating me, and I

can howl at its emptiness or marvel

as its realisation dawns on me.

2014-11-03 08.14.29

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