TO AGE GRACEFULLY

the beauiful crone

To Age Gracefully is the subject of a course I offer at the Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas from March 9th to the 13th. In those five days we will explore the challenges and blessings of growing older at any age. The philosophical and spiritual inspiration comes from the wisdom of Vedanta and the practices that help us create a lifestyle in accord with our stage in life from Hatha Yoga and Ayurveda.

I look forward to these daily workshops where we will discuss appropriate diet, exercise, relaxation, positive thinking and meditation.  I will also be your teacher for the morning asana class adapting postures and accommodating for physical challenges.  You will also join the Ashram schedule for the morning and evening meditation and some karma yoga or selfless service. There will also be free time for swimming or going for walks on the beautiful beach. Those of you who have been to the Retreat know how healing a stay in the Ashram can be.  So join me for this event.  I look forward seeing you again.

As a short introduction to some of the themes I will talk about I am reprinting an article I posted last year titled “Young for ever”.

“Young for ever” is the new anthem of my generation.  As a baby boomer I have had it pretty easy so who would not like to keep the good times going? Every time someone remarks I don’t look my age I join my generation’s belief that I can defy the passage of time and keep it in mind when choosing clothes and hair style. Medicine and cosmetics also promise ever lasting youth through many pills, supplements and procedures. We are a generation intensely hyperactive, on a permanent quest to learn and better ourselves. Many of my friends in their seventies and eighties take new courses, learn foreign languages and travel to the “1000 places that must be seen in one’s lifetime”.  Of course it’s all wonderful but I question sometimes the motivation behind that flurry of projects, the urgency not to miss the next activity or product.  It is said that boredom is the worst enemy of old age after fear of sickness and death.  Boredom, that old demon hidden easily during our active years, sticks now its ugly head.

In our quest to remain forever young could we be missing a very important stage in our life?  The Greeks called it the “great age”.  So how do I embrace my great age? Letting go is  a start.  Nobody likes a fool old woman or man hanging on obsessively to old memories.  Letting go, that pending subject, becomes at this stage a necessity if I want to remain sane.  But once I let go of much of the running around that kept me busy in the past I find myself with… time.  Bertrand Russell said that idleness  is one of the privileges of old age. Indeed, it is a privilege to have time. I can play with time and stretch it in the pleasant company of good friends, for example, or I can transcend it watching in awe a beautiful landscape. When I was young I fought constantly with time and the rhythms of nature which I always found slower than my schedules but now because I have time I can slow down and finally enjoy being rather than doing. The result is that I am more present, it’s better for my health and I am more aesthetically graceful. Yes! more beautiful. Real idleness of course needs patience, another of those virtues that used to escape me. Through patience we get at the heart of compassion and love so, who said something was lost by aging?

Epicurus was convinced that the great age was the zenith of life, its best moment. This quote is attributed to him: “It is not the young man who is happy but rather the old man who has lived well.  The young man, full of vigor, makes many mistakes while the old man has safely reached the harbor and anchored his goods with the means of gratitude.”  Yes, indeed, I can look at my anchored ship in the harbor as I sit in a small café enjoying contently the Mediterranean sun, something I was not quite able to do till recently. Plato also was convinced that the great age is the ideal time to study philosophy.  Interestingly enough, a study from U. of California in San Diego* says that, neurologically, a slower brain is a wiser brain because those parts of the brain connected with abstract and philosophical thinking are free from the disturbing effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine, therefore someone older is less impulsive and subject to emotions. It’s good to know that I am not hooked on dopamine any longer. The truth is that now I think differently and, honestly, I don’t feel short-changed.  It’s all good.

the crone*Quote from Daniel Klein in Balade avec Epicure

 

 

 

 

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UNLOCKING THE GATE

 gate

 

When I go on hikes in the mountains of Mallorca I quite often come across gates that bar the path. All land in that small island always belongs to someone.  Then one has to go back or look for an alternative route. Sometimes the owner is generous and allows hikers to go through his property by leaving the gate unlocked.  I am always struck by how artificial these land divisions are when I see the same grass growing on both sides of the barrier.

When in meditation I have the courage to let go of my sense of “I” and “mine” it is like opening an unlocked gate. In Zen there is a collection of koans called the Mumonkan, the gateless barrier, and resolving each koan is like passing over and over an unlocked gate.  But when I hang to the idea of separation how insurmountable that barrier looks!

Realizing that there was never a barrier to begin with is most liberating and one cannot help smiling at how our false perceptions keep us from moving forward.  The grass grows indeed the same everywhere. The barrier is always mind-made and there are no sides or separation. When our perception changes, in a blink of an eye the barrier disappears, the heart stirs and the eyes become moist.   Love is not abstract any more. “Love is a concrete thing, an actual substance you can use with confidence”, says Swami Sivananda in Bliss Divine.  Love changes the vision of our eyes, the speed at which our blood runs through our veins, the make-up of our chemistry and our molecular structure. To keep a body “in love” is to keep it healthy, in accord with nature and alive.  Yes, Swami Sivananda, love is life, love is warmth, love is constructive and creative. “To live is to love. To love is to live”. This is the big secret that lays beyond the gateless barrier and that Swami Sivananda cried out in the ten directions. So, let us follow his advice and use that elixir to the point of becoming addicted to it. And if we ever run out of it, check your tendency to picking and choosing because that surely will make heaven and earth fall apart.

 

 

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YUDISHTHIRA’S FINAL ILLUSION

krishna

As most of you probably know the Bhagavat Gita is part of the Mahabharata, the oldest epic known to humanity, older than the Bible or the Greek myths and vaster than all of Shakespeare’s work. When I studied the Bhagavat Gita in TTC I wondered what happened to Arjuna and the Pandava brothers after the war.  At the end of the Bhagavat Gita  Arjuna, after taking to heart Krishna’s teachings, is able to get over his despondency and engage in right action (dharma) free of all attachment, knowing that victory and defeat are the same and that this kind of action is the way to escape the wheel of birth and death.

Back to the main story in the Mahabharata, Vyasa tells us that after the war everything was destroyed, foes and friends alike.  The Pandavas leave the scene of destruction and horror and head North, to Heaven.  But on their way they fall, one by one, into the abyss with the exception of Yudishthira. He is the oldest brother, the righteous one, and has been accompanied in his wanderings by an old dog.  At one point Yudishthira hears a voice that announces to him, ‘You have arrived at the gate to paradise. You can enter but you must leave the dog behind.  Paradise is not open to dogs’. Dogs even today in the East are considered dirty and the lowest of animals.  Yudishthira thinks about it but finally he says ‘I can’t.  This dog has been faithful to me and I cannot leave him behind’.  This was the right path to follow as the voice tells him that the dog is in fact his father and that he has passed this test.

Once in paradise Yudishthira meets the Kauravas, the cousins against whom he has fought the war together with Arjuna and his brothers. The Kauravas taunt him and tell him that his brothers are all in hell.  Yudishthira then decides to stay with his family and go to hell as well.  The voice again says, ‘This was the final illusion. You have known paradise and hell but here there is no paradise, no hell, no punishment, no enemies, no friends, no happiness, no suffering.  Rise in tranquility! Here words end.  Here thought end’.

And here ends the Mahabharata too.  The message of the Bhagavat Gita again is repeated.  Renunciation is not enough.  We must act but our action should be compassionate and yet free of attachment to gain or loss, victory or defeat.  This is the challenge presented in this great epic which is as relevant to mankind today as it was in Bharata thousands of years ago.

 

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THE HEALING SOUND OF OM

I am passing on to you this beautiful recording of Om not just as an aid to meditation but as a powerful vibration for healing.  At a time when we are surrounded by electromagnetic waves of all kinds (cell phones, wi-fi, etc…) whose effects on our health are yet unknown it is of utmost importance to heal, protect and enhance our energy field.  Scientists report that the electromagnetic “noise” that surrounds us is so loud that it drowns the earth’s resonance frequency of 7.83Hz which amazingly is the same as the Alpha wave frequency of our brains.  For more on this please check in Youtube a well-researched and most informative documentary Resonance Beings of Frequency.

Om is the sound of the universe and  everything resounds with Om. Om is the mantra at the heart of all other mantras. Swami Vishnu in Meditation and Mantras says that by repeating Om we transform every atom in our body.  The vibration of Om is the tool to restore our physical and mental sanity.  Chanting Om we remember our original music and can harmonize with the rest of the universe creating a beautiful symphony. Pythagoras could hear the sounds of the spheres but today anyone can hear in internet the sounds produced by the frequencies of the Sun, the Earth and all the planets in the solar system (NASA Sounds of Planets). Amazing technology and amazing universe!

I like to hear this recording at least 30 minutes which is the time it takes to do a “mala”, a rosary of 108 beads.  It is said that repeating a mantra 108 times a day amplifies its effect.   What  a  wonderful way to start the day!  Chant Om and allow your body and mind to resonate with the Earth and the entire creation.   Chant until the sound, the breath and the mind become entangled in one.   Let Om caress you.  Let Om envelop you.  Surrender to Om.  Become Om.

 

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MEDITATION D’AUTOMNE EN FORÊT

la-retraite-dhyana

Du 22 au 25 septembre je vous invite à célébrer avec moi l’équinoxe d’automne dans la contemplation et le silence chez mon ami Jean Christophe.

Le lieu c’est une belle maison rustique dans la forêt de Val Morin. Nous ferons du yoga, de la méditation Zen, des promenades en forêt et préparerons ensemble de délicieux repas végérariens, le tout dans le silence. Les périodes de méditation durent 20 minutes suivies de 10 minutes de marche consciente.

Si vous êtes intéressés visitez info@dhyana-ananda.ca.  L’espace étant limité (maximum 10 personnes), les réservations se font bien à l’avance.

Quelle belle occasion pour profiter de la paix et l’énergie d’introspection de l’automne! Au plaisir de se revoir!

 

 

 

 

 

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THE STORY OF MY LITTLE MIND

monkeyMy little mind has been running the show for a very long time. Like a spoiled child she believes to be the center of the universe and tries to control it unsuccessfully. She makes me do foolish things and rarely listens to the wise counsel of big Mind.

Unaware of her power she can manifest paradises and hells whimsically and plunge me in the deepest despair or elevate me to heavenly realms.  Sometimes she appears like a wild beast lurking in the darkness ready to catch me unaware. Then I am at her mercy and have vivid dreams of old stories I thought forgiven and forgotten long time ago. At other times she is  sweet and loving but, unpredictably, she can lash out with anger, greed or jealousy at any moment. Like a magician she shape-shifts into scary monsters or mesmerizing gods but as soon as I fall in love with them she breaks the spell.

My little mind is always busy like a hyperactive monkey who never stops chattering. I have kept company with this mind for a long time and know that she does not like to be crossed  or ignored so when I want to calm her I listen patiently without rejection, approval or judgement.  I just wait quietly and then…  in  those intimate moments she allows me to take a peak at the treasure she hides jealously in my heart and that is when we become the best of friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE FOUR STAGES OF LIFE

All knowledge is composed of theory and practice.  In the spiritual traditions of India, the ancient Vedic science presents the theory and the systems of Yoga are the practice. Veda itself means knowledge, spiritual knowledge, and Yoga is the practical application of that knowledge. As practitioners of Yoga it is important not to overlook the wisdom of the Vedic science of consciousness. First, it gives us the knowledge to gain the true goal of life which is  self-realization and spiritual liberation. Second, it provides the means to harmonize our lives with that spiritual purpose and this means how to take care of our physical body and our society including medicine, astrology, psychology, the arts, etc…  Vedic society was  an agrarian society in contact with the elements and the cycles of nature and the seers or mystics encompassed in their teachings all forms, levels and stages of life.

At a time when modern science is breaking through more subtle realms of mind and matter all the time we can begin to see the value of a spiritual science, outer and inner, a science of the eternal and the infinite, a sacred science.

According to the Vedas human life was seen as not different from the seasons in nature. What grows in Spring will not grow in the Autumn.  The action which is appropriate in the Summer is out of place in the Winter.  The span of a normal human life was regarded to be eighty-four years, not so far off from our present life expectancy. It consisted of four stages.  The first twenty-one years is the Brahmacharya period, a time for the youth to learn which requires a certain discipline, guidance and purity for its full flowering.

Then comes the next twenty-one years, till forty-two.  The householder phase, a time for raising children, working and fulfilling our role in society.

The third period, till sixty-three, is the hermitage or retirement stage, a time to return to contemplation, guiding of society in the distance and starting to simplify and relinquish ambitions.

The fourth and last stage is the Sannyasa or renunciation period. As an elder the goals of life are inwardly renounced.  Ideally, his experience and spiritual knowledge allows him to be a source of counsel and teaching but he no longer partakes in social or political concerns. More advanced beings may go directly to this stage as swamis or monks, regardless of their age. Less advanced beings may not even qualify for the first stage and they may never develop the innocence, purity and humility of the Brahmachari.

We see that in this vision of life only twenty-one years are dedicated to the outer duties of life and that three quarters are devoted primarily to spiritual pursuits. Unfortunately, our present society is based mainly on adolescent values.  Even the elderly are expected to act and dress like the young pursuing sex, sports and money. Such a society is one-sided and out of balance and denies the older person his natural movement towards detachment, meditation and spiritual development.  As the elderly begin losing interest in the outer goals of life we tell them that they are old or sick and encourage them to remain active and worldly seeking not allowing them to grow in wisdom and become true teachers. We do not respect them and they feel we have abandoned them and as we live longer this problem becomes more acute.

David Frowley, Vedic scholar and yogi,* believes that a society that does not recognize the stages of life cannot flourish for long , “just as a farmer cannot be successful if he only knows the plants that flourish in one season. Nor can any individual be happy if he only follows the needs of a stage of life which is no longer appropriate for him.”

It is true that if we lack the dimension of spiritual growth we can have a distorted perspective on our existence but Vedic values can aid us restore the inner dimension of society and that of our individual existence. It is that power of aspiration which gives true meaning to our human life and allows us to appreciate the different stages of development regardless of our age.

 

* David Frowley, From the River of Heaven

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