Friday, January 6, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas -- Day 12

January 6   twelfth day

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
twelve drummers drumming

The twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed. Absolutely fitting, as we come to the finish line of our twelve-day sprint through theology, philosophy, and recovery. The Church fathers (doubtless while the Church mothers were tending the kids and the shop) itemized the Creed in 12 bullet points so that said kids and anyone new to the faith could remember them. Don’t think I want to list them here, but basically the Creed declares Jesus to be the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, and our rescuer and our protector.

This might be a good time to mention Step Eleven, which I forgot to bring up yesterday. It’s my favorite step, because it links recovery’s essentially dualist theology (God’s up there, you’re down here; God’s perfect, you’re far from it;
God can save you, you can’t save yourself) with one of nondualist Tantra’s main tenets: the Divine is always there/here, we just need to remember/recognize Him/Her/It:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

In other words, the sun is always shining, just open the blinds!

gandhiStep Twelve follows up by asking us to carry the message to others and be a power of example in our own lives. Gandhi would feel right at home. Think your little words and deeds don’t matter? Remember that diminutive man who rocked a continent and an Empire.

As for drumming, turn to Shiva Nataraj (see Day 9), Godshiva drumas frenzied dancer. In his upper right hand he holds a drum, whose beat brings the world into being. A grown-up, Hindu, slightly deranged version of the Little Drummer Boy. Drums may be the one instrument that figures in every musical tradition worldwide. We all follow the upbeat, the downbeat, the beat of our own drums, our heartbeats.

As we close in on the Epiphany-the arrival of the three wise men at the manger-it’s time to step back from the story and ask:

How Awake am I?
What is my source, my light, my truth?
Which unwavering star guides me through the darkness?
How long and how far am I willing to travel?

You are every character in the story: the Virgin Mary, the humble wise men whose wisdom pales in the light of Christ’s simple insights, the baby Jesus, and God the Father. Even the Holy Spirit, if that counts as a “character.” You are Judas and the faithful apostles, Pontius Pilate and the Jews who became Christians and those who stayed their course. 

You are capable of great things and small, of awesome destructiveness and astounding creativity, of selfishness and generosity, of abysmal darkness and blinding light. The rest of your life has yet to be written. Let’s enter this new year and this new age where we began twelve days ago, with our sights on the Highest!


Mazel tov!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas --Day 11

11th day 

January 5   

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
eleven pipers piping

Well, if you can make “eleventh” fit the beat when you sing this out loud, you’ve got one over me. Eleven is an awkward, a prime number, and outlier, so I guess it’s no surprise that it also claims an extra syllable and muddles the rhythm.

The pipers are the eleven faithful Apostles, meaning the whole
gang ‘cept Judas Iskariot, best known for going down in infamy. 

Question: How many can you name? Thought about Bartholomew or Thaddaeus lately? Thank God (or Jesus, or Allah, or Shiva) for Google, or I’d be well adrift on the seas of religious ignorance by now. So don’t be fooled, I’m looking this stuff up as I call it, having been raised in a household where the closest I ever got to church was an hour of silent Meeting at my Quaker school. For those of you who don’t know, Quakers eschewed the Bible and all scriptures, believing that God speaks directly to each of us. What a concept.

Anyway I just can’t find myself getting excited about eleven of anything. Didn’t even enjoy being eleven and was glad when it was over.

krishnaAs for pipers, we’ve got Orpheus,whose tunes tamed the wildest animals. We’ve got Krishna, who my friend Julie tells me is kind of a Hindu Christ, yet 
whose best known for seducing the gopis (see Day 8), and closer to home
 we’ve got the Pied Piper, who led little children astray (or at least beyond the ken of their parents). Hell (oops!), let’s throw in Huck Finn and his harmonica, Bob Dylan as an Angry Young Man sucking the life out of his, windpipes and bagpipes and steampipes
and tobacco pipes, the longwinded and the full of hot air (my maternal grandfather being both, a dedicated pipe smoker and a windbag who loved to tug hard on my nose and call me Shnoogie).


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas -- Day 10

10th dayJanuary 4   

On the tenth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
ten lords a-leaping

The Ten are of course the Ten Commandments, the time-tested list of no-no’s held to be sacred to human society and human survival.

ten commandments Must be something about ten that instills conscience. Step Ten asks us to continuing taking a daily moral inventory of ourselves and when we are wrong to promptly admit it. In other words, don’t let stuff pile up or you’re doomed to relapse. Yoga has the ten yamas and niyamas, which similarly instruct us not to lie, cheat or steal, to remain pure (indeed, chaste), to study, and to surrender to the Highest.

T’would seem that all tens lead to Rome, or Jerusalem, or the ashram, or rehab.

But amid all this seriousness, the lords are leaping. Leaps of faith? Perhaps, but I’m not convinced. Maybe they’re in
cahoots with the Irish jiggers (see Day 8).


I’ll segue here over to the Hindu myth of Hanuman (halfmonkey/half human in form, Divine in nature), who boldly leaps over the Ocean of Consciousness to reunite heartbroken Ram with his abducted wife Sita. Yogis the world round know Hanuman’s leap as the source, cause, and origin of one of the most feared asana: Hanumanasana, or the splits.

Yoga also says that ten forms of prana animate our being. The life force takes some interesting forms: moving up, moving down, moving all around, and causing such unconscious spasms as blinking and sneezing.

Tens in the vernacular have a pretty good rap: we’ve got
Perfect Ten
Base Ten
Ten to One
Tennis anyone?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas -- Day 9

January 39th day  

On the ninth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
nine ladies dancing

Well, this is odd since dancing is practically anathema in the Christian Church. Did you know that the Irish peasants created the Irish jig (all legs, no arm movements) so they could dance indoors without being busted by their loving clergy? If a priest should walk by one of their houses and peer in the window, all he would see was the stationary upper body, not the prancing feet!

shiva nataraja 
So let’s skip right over the continents to India, where dancing has long held its place among spiritual practices. Think of Sufism’s whirling dervishes. Think of the gopis (cow girls) who romped around hottie Krishna, hoping to entice him with sexual favors. Or Shiva Nataraj, the Lord in the form of the ecstatic dancer whose gyrations bring the world into being.

The yoga tradition also loves nines, and a set of nine nines (total of 108) is particularly auspicious. It’s also the numbermala beadsmala beads that make up the Indian rosary. Nine is three squared, so sets of three also tend to pile up into nines, like the crescending sets of nine waves surfers count. Cats have nine lives (probably because they sleep through 80% of each life). The carrot dangled in from of you for completing the Ninth Step in recovery (where you make amends to all those you have harmed) is the “Promises,” which include gems like:

We will not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
Feelings of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us

Worthy rewards for anyone who’s willing to clean up his or her side of the street.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas -- Day 8

January 28th day  

On the eighth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
eight maids a-milking

The eight beatitudes, given to us in the Gospel of St. Matthew as gifts from Jesus Christ. In contrast to the external (and negatives) of the Ten Commandments (“thou shalt not . . .”) these eight are gentler and generally more upbeat (at least if you find yourself at the bottom of the social totem pole). A little rusty on your Gospels? No worries, here they are verbatim:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst
for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted
for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

  -- Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

Makes you feel good just reading it!

henna belly 
But back to the maids a milking. Tell me that’s not a pagan symbol of fecundity. Those ripe young lasses, that white milk a flowing, those motherly cows nourishing all those pink-faced little Christian cherubs . . .

But I also like that they’re having to work it! Milk and honey are not flowing without human exertion. We are no doubt grounded here on earth where such miracles are few and far between, so best to get down to it.

India reveres the cow as a sacred beast, and to this day cowssacred coware treated better than most humans in that great land. Thus, if you have a peak at the classical yogic diet, you’ll see it’s heavy on dairy: milk, yogurt, ghee, paneer. Alas, our American cows do not get such gentle handling, and the dairy consortium calcium scam notwithstanding (turns out the calcium we need for our bones can’t be absorbed through dairy products), vegan is always an option. Might nose you a step or two closer to the beatitudes.

Other memorable 8s:
  • The 8 Noble Truths of Buddhism
  • “8 Days a Week,” by the Beatles
  • figure 8 (infinity sign)
  • The 8 ball

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas -- Day 7

January 17th day  

On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
seven swans a-swimming

New Year's Day meant diddlysquat to the early Christians, but in the modern calendar it does mark the halfway point in the 12 Days. january 1I for one am happy to know that I have only five more days of wisdom to impart, and if you are still reading this you maybe you will see me through to the grand Epiphany.

The seven swans are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. What are these, you ask?

  1. Wisdom (according to Thomas Aquinas linked to the virtue of Charity).
  2. Understanding: linked to Faith
  3. Counsel (Right Judgment): linked to Prudence
  4. Courage: linked to Fortitude
  5. Knowledge: linked to Hope
  6. Piety: linked to Justice
  7. Fear of the Lord: linked to Temperance

Seven throughout the Biblical traditions is associated with fullness, completion, and perfection. But we are not yet done here! And far from perfect at that!

Step Seven asks God to remove our shortcomings. Let's dovetail things here and ask him to replace all that garbage with the Seven Gifts. Then we won't have to go through the Steps ever again, much less climb back on the wheel of karma for another go-round.

Mainstream yoga maps the body as a string of seven chakraschakrasor energy vortexes that spin on the axis of the shushumna nadi (spinal column in the physical body)-though some traditions winnow it down to five, and still others balloon out to twelve. The chakras don't line up with the Seven Gifts, though, so don't go wandering down that path. Instead, they govern all aspects of what makes you you, from your basic urge to survive to your loftiest spiritual insights. You need 'em all, and you want them all running smoothly. For a stellar description of how that all works and why it runs amok and what to do when it does, see Anodea Judith's Wheels of Life and/or her Eastern Body,Western Mind.

I can't let a reference to swimming flow by without reminding you that "anu-sara" (as in Anusara yoga) means both "with the essence" and "with the flow." We practice to align with the currents of Grace. A swimmer who steps into a strong current and swims against it will drown. A swimmer who steps into a strong current and does nothing drowns. A swimmer to swims with the current gets to the other side. How about it? Are you still playing salmon forging up the stream of life? Are you a lounge lizard wondering when Grace will descend upon you? Or are you willing to co-create, to build upon the gifts you have already received (including the gift of life) and make something more?

Anusara yoga has seven loops that help us to stand tall. In doing so, they reconnect the front to the back of the body, the little self that moves through the world to the collective that supports it/you/me. We Americans are a forward-looking people, leaning into our bright futures with as much drive as we run from our own pasts. What if there were somethings of true value in what you had already done/learned/felt/seen and heard?

Our bodies are tangible evidence of where we have been and what we've done, for better or for worse. Anusara Yoga is your roadmap back to your inborn health and harmony. Come back to the mat!

Okay, that's nine paragraphs on the seven swans, so time to cut this short!

PS: This is the last of the birds.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas -- Day 6

December 316 geese a-laying  

On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
six geese a-laying

The six days of creation before God rested on the Sabbath.

eggsEggs are of course a well-worn flag of new beginnings, featuring prominently in Easter and other pagan-inspired spring rites of renewal. Cherished and adorned by Tsarist Russia, dismissed for possessing more than a reasonable share of cholesterol, the humble egg is still my favorite lunch-on-the-go (hardboiled and eaten out of the shell at room temp, in the style of those wire trees perched on the counters old French cafes).

Raising chickens is newly hip, and I've had the pleasure of watching my brother's flock drop their daily quota. The beauty lies in the diversity: some are pale green and oblong, others peach and round. Each day a new gift. Each perfect in its own way.

cracked eggThe yoga tradition pictures the universe as a cracked egg, its
perfect beauty marred by a fissure that in turn allows the universe to grow and to evolve. Awakening ones trace their way along the seam, for it is through the cracks that the light of the Divine also shines.

Baby chicks must tap tap tap their way out of the hard shell protecting them. We too must continually push out against the boundaries we set for ourselves, caterpillars breaking through the chrysalis. To do so means leaving our old selves behind. Step Six announces that we are willing to have God remove all the defects of character that emerged in our moral inventory (see Day Four). Yoga is the power of transformation, and God knows we could all do with change.

The Hindu pantheon features sets of three gods and three goddesses (total: six) who encompass the cycle of creation-sustenance-dissolution:






(Though later Tantra switches the order of the goddesses, seeing Kali as the innate potential that spurs creation.)

The ghostly trio of the Three Fates provide a vastly underrated backdrop to the Greek myths: no matter what antics the gods and goddesses may enact, the final outcome always lies in the hands of the three ladies:

one who spins the thread of life
one who doles it out
one who cuts it short.

Who's pulling on your string? How are you making use of what's being doled out?

new years eveA fond farewell to 2011!