Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 8 - Reflections on Your Meditation Practice

Today's Tarka Practice

Today, I want you to think about your relationship to your meditation practice. Do you find joy in your practice? How long have you been practicing? What do you wish you could improve on in your practice? What do you struggle with the most in your practice? What comes easy to you? Reflect on your answers to these questions. What insights did you gain my answering these questions? What new discoveries did you make?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Day 9 - The Empty Mind

Today's Tarka Practice
On of the reasons that we practice meditation is to empty the mind. An empty mind is a clear mind. An empty mind allows us to see reality as it is, to connect to our higher sense of self, to become one with God, Self, Nature,Universe, Reality or the Atma within the Brahman.

The first step to an empty mind is to use a meditation technique to focus the mind. Meditation practitioners around the world use a variety of techniques - they use a catch word or phrase, they use the breath, they use an object of beauty, they watch their thoughts, they use a mantra, etc. There are many techniques to choose from. Do not get caught up in the technique. The technique helps us to focus the mind but that is not the goal. The goal is to allow this focusing technique to empty our minds of all other thoughts. Eventually, with practice, you will become completely focused on this one thing. However, you should not stop there.

It is when you are so completely focused on the now that you are no longer concentrating that you have acheived the goal. All time passes away, all thoughts pass away and everything becomes completely effortless. It is at this point that you will truly experience the peace and harmony of an empty mind.

In your journal, write down a list of all of the different techniques you have tried. Out of that list, pick the one that works the best for you. The one that helps you get as close to this empty mind, this one-pointedness that you can possibly be in this moment. Now, practice only this technique for the next 40 days. See what happens and record any changes you experience in your journal.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 10 - Once Upon A Yogi Time

Today's Tarka Practice
Today, I wish to share one of my favorite stories. Before making any decisions in my life, I think about this story to see whether or not I really wish to generate the karma from the thought and action that would occur from the decision. It goes like this...

"Once upon a yogi time, a disciple went into a restaurant and sat down. He was thinking. 'My Guru says that the mind can cause great havoc. I don't understand.' His eye caught the glistening of a little drop of honey that had splashed on the wall. He then saw a bee come to taste the honey. Soon a lizard rushed at the bee with its long, quivering tongue. The manager's pet cat leaped for the lizard. A little dog hidden in the coat of a customer jumped up and wounded the cat...the owner of the little dog pounced upon the dog...the waiter spilled a large tray of hot soup...and the cook came screaming from the kitchen wondering what was going on! The disciple sat calmly and reflected. Is that too mystical"? Taken from Goswami Kriyananda's Beginner's Guide to Meditation

What is the moral of this story? Sometimes we should leave the honey alone, or sometimes we should not take any action.

In your journal today, think about a situation that got out of your control very quickly. Think about the very beginning of the situation - the thought that made you take action. How might your life be different if you had not acted on that thought?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 11 - The Way We Experience Love

Today's Tarka Practice
To begin today's reflections I have another story to share. This story comes from my own personal journal and talks about my meditation experience in the Zen tradition. This was before I became a student of Kriya yoga and the writing is from about eight years ago. After re-reading this story in my own journal, it struck me how many great lessons are still present. This was a writing about love.
And the story begins...

The faint scent of cedar wood filled the room. Eyes closed, I carefully observed the proper form of the Soto Zen meditation tradition. As my breath eased in and out of my body, I used breath control and intention to push the air deliberately towards my feet. I was focused and felt calm and peaceful until my cat, Egypt, started rubbing her head lovingly against my hand, begging for attention. I did not reach out to pet her; instead, I tried to maintain my locus of control. In order to train my mind, my will, it was essential to maintain proper form. Her rubbing became more insistent, and I felt the hives begin to grow and itch on the back of my hand. They itched like mad, but I refused to move and break form. Again, I used my breath to try to forget the itching sensation that was now cascading up my wrist and forearm. She would not leave me alone, and I was getting very irritated. I did not set out to make irritation the central focus of this meditation. Yet, I sat there still, irritated and itchy. She was not trying to irritate me; she was only seeking love. This love came to me without warning and was not what I expected it to be. I thought to myself, love is often like this. We have expectations about the form it will take and who it will be with. We make judgments about the way we wish it to be, and when it does not meet our expectations, we become irritated. This irritation actually blocks us from being able to receive love. We often want love to come to us on our terms and only when we decide we want it; we want to control it instead of just opening ourselves up and letting it happen. When others demand love from us during inconvenient times, such as during meditation, or while we are busy working on a project, or watching our favorite TV show, we don't notice it; we actually push love away, get angry and then wonder why our partners are irritated, hurt, or angry. Love can be very demanding. When those who seek only to be in our presence approach us, what we need to do is to stop, to listen, to awaken, to pay attention, become fully present in the moment and ask ourselves what is going on here? When others are "begging" for our attention, it is because we have not been giving it. If we tend our relationships as if they were a flower garden, if we nurture them with care and water them regularly, the petals will slowly open and grow towards the light. Instead of acting and reacting, we can just sit openly, listen silently, and awaken to what is being offered here. It is caring, compassion - it is generosity. My cat gave up for a bit, moved away, and sat next to me quietly purring. We rested comfortably in each other’s presence. Neither of us had to do anything. No action needed to be taken. Both of us were able to offer each other love and both of us were open to receive it. Love does not need to be demanding if we are awake. Love moves through us as freely as our breath.

In your journal today, I want you to open yourself to love. As you move through your day, think about your own encounters with love and the effects love has on your state of mind.

How many times did you feel love enter your life today? How did you approach it (did you receive it easily, get irritated, close yourself off, etc.)

Just notice all of your feelings and thoughts surrounding love.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day 12 - The River of Life

Today’s Tarka Practice
I have one more story to share with you this week. This story is taken from Goswami Kriyananda's Beginner's Guide to Meditation.

"Once upon a yogi time there was a man who owned a little donkey. For many years, the donkey carried huge baskets of salt that weighed him down and made him tired. One day, by accident, the donkey slipped at the edge of the river and fell in. When he emerged, he realized that his burden was greatly lightened because most of the salt dissolved in the river. The man was angry but accepted the loss of the salt as an accident. The next day the donkey passed the same river and remembered how light his burden had been made the previous day. So he threw himself into the water and came back out, his load greatly lightened. This went on for a few days until the man realized what his donkey was doing. But he said nothing. Some days later, the man stacked huge piles of cotton on the donkey and together they started their trek. Coming to the river, the donkey thought himself very clever and again fell in. But this time the light cotton quickly soaked up the water, and when the little donkey emerged from the stream his legs buckled under him, and he understood the ways of the river of life."

While there are many different levels to this story and many things to reflect upon, today we will focus on only one of those themes.

For today's journal, think about your misconceptions about life. It is easy to think that once we take care of the problem, life will run smoothly. However, this is not the way of life. Life can be easy sometimes and challenging sometimes. We can solve one problem, have a break, only for another new set of problems to begin. Write down your expectations about life. What you expect to happen and what actually happens may be completely different things, so it is good to be aware of the nature of life, particularly, the nature of your life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 13 - Your Conversation with Life

Today's Tarka Practice
Life is a dialogue with the self, others, and the world. Each of these entries in your journal is your conversation with life. These conversations are not complete, and they will never be complete. All they can do is to give you a snapshot of what you are thinking during one moment. Just as a photograph represents an exact slice of time so do your writings and reflections. Therefore, each entry will build on another entry. As you write, you will find that your thoughts change. When you engage in conversations with others, your thoughts change. As you have new experiences, your thoughts change. Your thoughts breathe with each passing moment, and you will often end up somewhere completely different from where you started. The message here is really this - don’t get too attached to your thoughts or to your conversation with life, for everything is impermanent and will change.

In your journal today, write about impermanence and how each moment passes. Reflect on old thoughts that you don't believe in anymore. For example, maybe last year you ate meat and this year you don't or maybe you were a vegetarian last year and this year you are not. Notice how you feel when you discover that thoughts are fleeting and are of little importance. Does this make you happy, distressed, peaceful?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 14 - The Power of Mantra

Today’s Tarka Practice
This week we will be discussing and practicing several mantras.

Mantras are used during meditation because they can help us change our thoughts. Whatever we think, we say and whatever we say, we act and whatever we act, we become. If we constantly think and tell ourselves that we are afraid, we will be afraid. If we constantly think and tell ourselves we are happy, we are happy. If you tell yourself you are a teacher then that is what you will become.
Because our thoughts control who we become, we want to be careful about what we think. The practice of using mantras can help us to focus on living in a love filled, positive environment in which we are in harmony with ourselves.

In a practical way, we can use mantra to change our thinking patterns. We can use mantra to replace bad habits of thinking and/or negative thinking into thinking patterns that are much more useful to us. Because it can change our thinking, it can change our actions. When we think more peacefully about ourselves and the world around us, we act more peacefully. Instead of acting from a place of anger, we can act from a place of contentment. In other words, you can think of it in this way. When you are angry, this manifests itself in an irritation with others. When you are feeling good and having a good day, your interactions with others are more positive.

For today's journal entry, please reflect on some of the thoughts you think that are not helpful to you. Write them down. Pick one that stands out to you and see if you can evaluate how this thought manifests itself negatively in your mind and in your actions.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day 15 - The Om Mantra

Today’s Tarka Practice

This week we will be discussing and practicing several mantras.

Om is the symbol of the absolute and the sound of the absolute. It is used at the beginning of almost every mantra because it symbolizes the Brahman. Because it is impossible for us to know the absolute completely when we are manifested beings, this symbol can help us realize the unknowable on many levels. It represents both the manifest and the unmanifest. All that exists – past, present and future – is a part of this symbol, so it represents not only this lifetime but all lifetimes.

When we practice this mantra, we often just repeat the sound over and over and listen to it as it resonates within both our internal and external sacred space. It penetrates our soul and brings us great joy and peace.

On a practical level, this mantra can be repeated silently during any time you are feeling uneasy. It will help remind you that you are a part of this sacred life. It can relax you and bring you an extreme calm. The sound that is produced when you recite this mantra creates a cosmic vibration that helps you to see the big picture. The silence that comes after the sound lets you rest with peace and tranquility because there is no thought. This mantra helps the mind go still, helps quell the thoughts, and leaves us feeling refreshed.

For today’s journal entry, record how you are feeling right now. Are you feeling irritated, joyful, sad, happy, fearful, content? Now, find a quiet space and meditate using the Om mantra in your practice. After your meditation, write down how you are feeling now. Have those feelings changed? What is different? Record those changes in your journal.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Day 16 - The Isha Mantra

Today’s Tarka Practice

This week we will be discussing and practicing several mantras.

The Isha Mantra
Om Purnam Adaha Purnam Idam
Purnat Purnam Udacyate
Purnasya Purnam Adaya
Purnam Eva-vasi-syate

This mantra is an expression of the ideas set forth in the Isha Upanishad. It speaks to the relationship between the Atman (Self) and the Brahman (Absolute Reality). The message here is that the Brahman is perfect, whole and complete and because we come from the Brahman or the absolute, unmanifested reality, that we are also perfect, whole and complete.

We can use this mantra in our own lives to help us understand that the Atman and the Brahman are the same. We are a part of the absolute. We have come out of the absolute. We are a part of the manifested reality that comes out of the unmanifested reality.

This mantra is used to harmonize ourselves with the universe or to yoke together our earth life and spiritual life. It is one of the most important mantras because of this yoking. It is this yoking that is the goal of yoga – complete Self-realization.

On a practical level, one could use this mantra when one is feeling confused about life and one’s purpose in it. One could use this mantra if one is feeling disconnected from one’s spiritual nature and/or spiritual life. There are really an infinite number of uses for this mantra. It is, perhaps, one of the most powerful mantras to use in our daily practice.

For today's journal entry, think about the times that you feel most disconnected from your own life's purpose. If you are struggling to find your life's purpose, write down those thoughts as well. Repeat this mantra over and over for 5 minutes. Write about your experience.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Day 17 - The Sarveshaam Shanti Mantra

Today’s Tarka Practice
Today we will discuss the Sarveshaam Shanti Mantra. In my tradition, we only practice the first part of the mantra, which is...

Om sarveshaam svastir bhavatu, sarveshaam shaantir bhavatu
sarveshaam poornam bhavatu, sarveshaam mangalam bhavatu

The Sarvasham mantra is a blessing mantra or prayer for all people and can be interpreted in the following way:
Sarveshaam – means all people
Svastir – means well being
Shaantir – means peace
Poornam – means completeness
Mangalam – means auspiciousness
Bhavatu – let it be ordained

Hence, this mantra means…let it be ordained that all people experience well-being, peace, completeness and auspiciousness.

This mantra can be used in your practice in many ways. It can be said daily as a part of your meditation practice. It can be used when you are having trouble with forgiveness. It can be used in a temple at the beginning or end of a service.

For today, let’s talk about using it when you are having trouble with forgiveness. Sometimes we are not ready to forgive someone and we need some help moving into that place. In order to help us move towards forgiveness, we can say this mantra daily in our meditation practice as we picture the person we wish to forgive. Saying this mantra will allow us to send good wishes towards the person we are feeling angry about (without actually forgiving them yet), which will eventually help us to feel more positive and less angry. As we begin to feel more positive and less angry, this moves our thoughts gradually, slowly towards forgiveness. Eventually, our thoughts will become softer and we will be ready to forgive and let go of the feelings we once held.

In your journal, think of someone you wish to forgive (this could also be yourself). Write down the story of what happened between you and the person. Write down what made you upset, sad, angry, jealous, etc. Get the whole story down on paper. After you have written everything down, set some time aside for meditation and practice this mantra. See what happens and write down what you experience.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 18 - The Om Namah Shivaya Mantra

Today’s Tarka Practice

Today we will discuss the Om Namah Shivaya mantra.

This mantra is known as a 5 syllable mantra and means “I bow to Shiva or I bow to my Self”. Shiva is one of the Hindu Gods that is part of the creation story and is associated with the destruction of all creation. Shiva is known as the destroyer but can also be interpreted in a way that means things can be dissolved or we can let go of them. Shiva can also symbolize the Self (with a capital S) or spirit / soul – that part of us that remains after everything else is destroyed - our true Self rather than just our physical self.

This mantra is repeated during meditation. As you repeat this mantra you feel a sense of being released from those things that are troubling you. Your troubles are being dissolved and you are being freed. Most often, what you are really freeing yourself from are your thoughts, attitudes, patterns of self-destruction, etc. Repeating this mantra brings forth clarity and wisdom as you begin to see those things which have been holding you back or those patterns in which you are stuck. This mantra will lead you to your own self-realization and you will see yourself and reality as they really are. For this reason, it is a very powerful mantra.

For today’s journal entry, you should write down something that has been an obstacle for you or something you wish to let go of. Set aside some time for meditation and repeat this mantra in your meditation. Write about your experience of this mantra after your meditation.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Day 19 - Can you Control Your Suffering?

Today's Tarka Practice

Many of the great eastern religious traditions tell us that suffering is optional. Is it? Do we truly have this much control over how we feel? Both the Gita and the Sutras tell us that we do have this kind of control - that we can control our suffering and that we cause ourselves to suffer. We are told in these ancient texts that it is our thoughts and attitudes towards those thoughts that cause us to suffer. If this is so, then we can learn to control our minds, change our thoughts and change our attitudes. Is this true? What about someone who is mentally ill or someone suffering through a great illness, like cancer? Are they still in charge of their own suffering?

For today's journal entry, I want you to reflect on your attitudes towards suffering. Try to answer some of the questions that I pose above and write down how you feel about each one. Talk about how much control you feel you have over your own life. Try to think of some examples from your experience in which you were suffering and were able to change your attitude in order to allieviate that suffering. Also, write down some examples of when you were not able to change your thoughts and attitudes and continued suffering. What was different about each of the situations you wrote about?


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Day 20 - What Would You Like to Manifest?

Today's Tarka Practice
My yoga teacher asked me the other day - what would you like to make manifest in your life right now? I was surprised by the question. It is something that I think about all of the time because I understand that we have the power to create anything we want in our lives. It is not a power that I often talk about with others and so her question made me come out of my own head (which was swirling with thoughts) and try to capture these thoughts in a more tangible way.

Sometimes, when we wish to create something in our lives, it is a good idea to talk about what we wish to create with other people. This can bring the creation from just thoughts to taking action. I often think about this in terms of a big pool of possibilities swirling around in the Brahman and that I have to just reach up and choose something. In yoga, we call this phenomenon aham bramasmi or I am the creative principle.

For today's journal entry think about and then write down 3 things you have been thinking of doing. Have you been wanting to add more to your yoga practice, change your eating habits, take a walk everyday, write a book? Take a look at your list and choose one thing that you would like to make manifest in your life right now. Write it down on a notecard that you look at everyday. Talk about it with other people and then observe how just setting this intention begins to bring what you need to make this manifest into your life.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Day 21 - The Beauty of Silence

Today's Tarka Practice

This is one of the most important spiritual practices that you can work into your life. The more you can incorporate periods of silence into your life, the stronger your spiritual practice will grow. Being silent helps you to learn to become a better listener. You will be able to better hear your own internal dialogue and you will be able to better hear others and what they are really saying.

Silence will also help you to slow down your thoughts and work towards an empty mind. The more you can be silent, the more present you will become with others. Your own mind won’t be running amok and so you will be able to really hear and observe what is going on around you. You will become more sensitive and more compassionate.

It can be very difficult to be silent, particularly if there are others in your life that think that your practice of silence is because you are upset with them.  In order to avoid this problem, explain to your loved ones that you are practicing silence and ask for their support. It can also be difficult to bring more silence into your life because you are afraid of the silence. Some people fear silence because they are afraid to slow down, take a breath and see who they are or see reality exactly as it is. So, be aware that when you first begin your practice of silence, you may encounter some obstacles with yourself and with others. This is good. It will help you grow and you can record all of this in your journal.

To begin to incorporate the practice of silence in your life, you may want to just start with an hour of silence each day. You can easily achieve this by waking up before everyone else or going to bed after everyone else. This is the easiest method. If this is not a possibility in your life, look at your schedule and see when you might be able to work silence into your life. Even an hour a week will benefit your spiritual practice.

In your journal today, write down when you will practice silence in your life, for how long, and when you will begin the practice. Set a date and make a commitment. When you practice silence, record how you feel about this practice in your journal. Do you feel relieved? Nervous? Fearful? Peaceful? Record everything you experience and you will begin to have a better understanding of what the practice of silence means in your own life.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 22 - Food Fasting

Today's Tarka Practice

Today I want to talk about food fasting as a way to help you learn to have more control over your mind and your body.

Disclaimer – before beginning any type of fast, please check with your doctor first and be aware of any types of medical conditions that may not allow you to do a traditional (water only) fast.

There are many ways to fast. You do not have to give up all food for the whole day or for several days. You can begin to have more control over your mind and body simply by eating less. In fact, this is the method suggested for those who have specific types of medical problems and are unable to do a traditional fast. Again, please check with your doctor first.

If your doctor allows it, you can then progress on to removing only one meal or one snack during your day. As you practice food fasting more and more, you can eliminate more meals slowly until you are eventually drinking only water for one day. If you can never eliminate all food for one day, this is fine. You will still learn the same spiritual lessons.

The spiritual benefits of food fasting are to gain more control over the body and mind and to connect more deeply with your spirit. This happens because while you are fasting the body becomes irritable and you begin to become consumed by thoughts of eating. When you start fasting, you will notice that all you can think about is food. Trying to stop these thoughts helps you gain control over your mind and body. We realize that we are not the body. The body really doesn’t need this food. We are disciplining ourselves. We are trying to break free of our bodies. We are trying to master our bodies. We become more aware of our spirit.

If your doctor allows it, pick one day this week and begin your fast by just eating less during the day. In your journal, record what happened during your fast. Was it easy or difficult? What came into your mind? What type of relationship do you have with food? Observe all irritations you experienced and record them in your journal.

When you are ready to progress, do the fast again and eliminate one snack, and then one meal and so on. Each time you fast, write about your experiences and see what you learn about yourself and your relationship to food. It might surprise you.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Day 23 - Taking Care of Yourself

Today's Tarka Practice

We often don’t take good care of ourselves. We tend to work long, hard hours, put others before ourselves, sleep less than 8 hours a night to catch up on our to-do lists, and as a result, we are exhausted and irritable. The problem is this – by exhausting ourselves in this way, we can’t be fully present for others. If we are tired and irritated, we are more likely to yell at others, act out of frustration, be quick to anger and it is very difficult to listen to what someone is saying to us. Concentration and focus are difficult when we are so busy that we don’t have time to take care of ourselves.

For this week’s journal entry, I want you to reflect on how well you think you take care of yourself. How much time do you dedicate to your own personal needs and interests? How much sleep are you getting? Do you have enough relaxation time set aside in your day?

After answering these questions, I want you to give yourself permission to take better care of yourself this week. Just for one week, see what you can do to make time in your schedule for you. If you have a hard time finding time in your life right now, just set aside 15 minutes to begin. If you can set aside an hour for yourself, that is even better. An hour a day would be superb. After taking care of you first for a week, write down what you experienced in your journal. Did you find you were less irritable? Was it easier to reach out towards others in understanding? Easier to listen and help others? These are the benefits of this practice.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Day 24 - To Yoke Together

Today's Tarka Practice
Our focus this week will be on the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is one chapter out of the Mahabharata, which is one of the longest Sanskrit epic poems from ancient India.

To begin, the Bhagavad Gita or the Lord’s song is an epic poem specifically discussing the very nature of yoga and what yoga means. If you have been a student of yoga for a while, you will know that yoga means to yoke or put things together harmoniously. But what, you may ask, are we supposed to yoke together?

The Gita tells us that in order to live a harmonious and happy life, we must yoke together our earth life with our spiritual life. But again, what does this really mean? It means that we should work towards creating our life on earth in such a way that it matches our spirit or what is deep within.  Here, we should strive towards manifesting those things that are most important to us. Those things that are most important to us are written onto our very spirit itself.

Another way of thinking about this would be to consider whether or not you are leading the life you wish to lead? When we are doing exactly what we want to be doing in our lives, we feel a deep inner harmony. However, when we feel like something is missing or there is an emptiness, most likely there is a discord between what we are doing in our earthly life and what our spirit is meant to be doing in our earthly life. The goal is to make these things match or to make them consistent with each other.

For today’s journal entry, the first thing I want you to think about is what does what I have said above mean to you? Do you feel your earth life and spiritual life match each other or is there a discord of some type? Reflect upon whether or not you feel like what you are doing in your life is what you feel like you were born here to do? This is the first step.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 25 - Our Life's Song

Today's Tarka Practice

Our focus this week will be on the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is one chapter out of the Mahabharata, which is one of the longest Sanskrit epic poems from ancient India.

Yesterday, we talked about yoking together our earth life with our spiritual life, what that means, and whether or not we felt that we were living our lives harmoniously. Today, we will continue on in our exploration of this idea.

The meaning of the words Bhagavad Gita are Lord’s song or life’s song. As we know from our previous reflections on the Atma and the Brahman, our lives are a part of the bigger picture or the atma (the self, the wave) within the Brahman (absolute reality, the ocean). Hence, the Gita asks us to reflect on first life’s song and second our own life’s song.

So, the first question for our journal writing today is what is life’s song? And, our second question is then what is “our” life’s song? In yoga and upon reading the Gita, we are meant to reflect on and we are supposed to determine what our purpose is here in this earthly life.

In the first sense, life’s song is to serve. In other words, our absolute purpose is to serve humanity. In the second sense, we are asked more specifically to reflect on how we, as individuals, are meant to serve that greater purpose. In other words, what is your specific task or how will you serve?

Many people do not understand what it means to serve. Usually, we think of service as taking care of others. For example, we think of service as volunteering at a nursing home or to feed the homeless. While these things are certainly a part of service, they are not the only part. In fact, upon closer reflection, everything we do is a type of service. From doing laundry and cooking dinner to helping our kids with their homework and writing a report for our boss.

For today’s journal entry, I want you to write about all of the things you “do” in your life from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed and think about each task as your service to the world. What did you learn about yourself during this process?


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Day 26 - Beginning to Know Your Dharma

Today's Tarka Practice
Our focus this week will be on the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is one chapter out of the Mahabharata, which is one of the longest Sanskrit epic poems from ancient India. If you have not read Monday’s and Tuesday’s posts, you may want to start there before reading this post.
For the last two days, we have been talking about our own life’s song or our life’s meaning or purpose. We have discovered that the overall meaning is to serve – to serve others, to serve ourselves and to serve life. How can we serve life? The answer to this question brings us to the next part of the Gita.

In the Gita, there are many key players. Today, we will talk about the two most important players – Arjuna and Krishna. Arjuna symbolizes the human being, a person, or even more literally, you – the person you are in this life. Krishna symbolizes God incarnate but can also be seen as symbolizing the oversoul or our higher self or spirit.

So, what is happening in the Gita is this – a conversation between Arjuna (your earth self) and Krishna (your spiritual self). Depending upon your religious beliefs, you can also see this as a conversation between you and God.

The conversation that is taking place is this: Arjuna is trying to figure out his life’s purpose or his life’s song and he is asking Krishna for help. Krishna’s response to Arjuna is this: your life’s song is your dharma.

In yoga, dharma has many meanings. For the purpose of our discussion here, you should think of dharma as the nature of life. Krishna is trying to help Arjuna understand the nature of life, more specifically, the nature of his life.

For today’s journal entry, I want you to think about the nature of your life. What is your dharma or purpose in this earthly life? Most people do not know the answer to this question or are uncertain. That is fine, for this is the place to begin. Many people come to yoga to find out the answer to this question, so for now, if you do not know your life’s purpose, make a list of your strengths and what you feel you do well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Day 27 - Your Dharma Part 2

Today's Tarka Practice

Our focus this week will be on the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is one chapter out of the Mahabharata, which is one of the longest Sanskrit epic poems from ancient India.

Yesterday, we ended our tarka practice with the question, what is your purpose in life or your dharma? Today, we continue on with that question to a second level of the word dharma. Dharma also means duty. So here, we could also ask ourselves the question, what is my duty in life?

The word duty often calls up thoughts of responsibility or questions like what am I responsible for? This is a question of ethics. So now, if we yoke together both purpose and duty within the word dharma, we come to understand that we each have an individual purpose to fulfill and a way to fulfill it. Not only should we fulfill our purpose but we should fulfill it in a responsible and harmonious way.

This is one reason that I asked you yesterday to make a list of your strengths in your journal. Your strengths tell you about what you do well. We are meant to do these things. It is our duty to do them. For example, if you think you are very good at teaching others but not very good at woodworking, this is a hint from the universe. One might say here, it is your purpose to teach or your duty to teach. It is not your purpose to be a woodworker. So, another way to find our purpose or our dharma is to make a list of what we do not do well. If you are still searching for your purpose, you can eliminate those things from the list that you have difficulty with and those things that you do not enjoy doing. We are given strengths and talents and we are meant to use them to fulfill our purpose.

In your journal today, I want you to make a list of things that you don’t think you do well and things you are not interested in doing. Now, you have to be careful here because sometimes we have weaknesses that we are meant to develop into strengths and sometimes we are afraid of success. When making your list, make sure that the things on your list are not there because you are running away from them.



Monday, September 10, 2012

Day 28 - Your Dharma Part 3

Today's Tarka Practice

Our focus this week will be on the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is one chapter out of the Mahabharata, which is one of the longest Sanskrit epic poems from ancient India.

Yesterday, we were talking about the relationship between dharma, duty, and purpose. Today, we will continue that discussion here, so if you missed yesterday’s post, read that one before reading this one.

A second way to understand the relationship between purpose and duty is this – it is our duty to fulfill our purpose. Hence, our task in life is to find our purpose and then to do it. The deeper message here is that when we are off the path - we are not finding our purpose or doing our purpose (we are not living our dharma), we will experience pain and unhappiness. However, when we are on the right path – we are moving towards our purpose and beginning to practice our purpose (we are fulfilling our dharma), we will experience joy and happiness.

So, our next task is to now write down in our journals those things that bring us pain and unhappiness and those things that bring us joy and happiness.

Finally, over the weekend, you can examine all of your journal entries this week in order to begin to get a sense of what your purpose in life is or what your duty is or what your dharma is. Go ahead and write those things down. Keep this list. Build on this list and notice some of the changes you begin to make in your life over the next few weeks.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day 29 - The Meaning of Karma

Today's Tarka Practice

In the west, people tend to think that karma means "what goes around, comes around" or "you should watch your actions because if you don't, you will get what's coming to you." However, this is not actually what karma means, so I thought I would discuss karma in greater depth here in order to clear up the misunderstandings.

Karma is not the law of retribution. Instead, it has many different meanings and is associated directly with our traits, characteristics, personalities, desires, habits, and tendencies. Karma is both a direct result of things or actions we take in all of our lifetimes as well as the genetic characteristics we are born with. For example, being right handed is a type of karma. The desire to be rich is also a type of karma.

In the yoga philosophy of the east, there are 3 different broad categories of karma. I will discuss the first one today - San-chitta karma. San-chitta karma is all of the karma you have collected from each life you have lived. Now that is a lot of karma.

This can be hard to picture so think of yourself as the ocean - all of the karma from all of your lifetimes is contained here. Each of the waves within the ocean is your karma manifesting. Not all of the karma manifests at one time or even in this lifetime. Not all waves in the ocean come all at one time. Sometimes the waves are big and sometimes they are small. Who you marry would be a big wave, what you choose for breakfast would be a small wave.

In order to begin to get a better understanding of karma, let's take a look at some of the karma that has manifested in this lifetime. In your journal, write down all of the characteristics you were born with - hair color, eye color, right or left handed, gender, weakeness or strengths within your body (for example - a weak stomach or a strong heart), sexual orientation, lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, eating, etc).

Tomorrow, we will discuss this list futher. So, until tomorrow...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Day 30 - Pralabdha Karma

Today's Tarka Practice
This week's discussion is on karma, what it means, and some of the different types. On Monday we talked about San-chitta karma or all of your karma from all lifetimes. Today, we will talk about Pralabdha karma.
Pralabdha karma is just the karma of this lifetime. So, if you did Monday's tarka, you will be off to a good start thinking about the karma you have in this lifetime. Take a look at the list I asked you to make on Monday. On this list, you should see some of the karma you were born with.
Your karma can tell you about your dharma, so it is important to understand the type of karma you were born with. This is the most likely karma to manifest in this lifetime. I'll use myself as an example here to illustrate what I mean. On my list of characteristics, I have teacher. Whether formal or informal I always seem to be teaching something. I teach my kids, I teach my students, I teach myself. No matter what I do, I can't seem to get away from this approach. Smiles. It follows me everywhere. It seems that I was born with this already in place. So, one might say that I was born with the karma of a teacher.
To take this further, the way I approach life - through the eyes of a teacher - can then be seen as a part of my dharma. It is in my essence. I might then say that it is my duty or my responsibility to be a teacher in this lifetime.
For today's journal entry, take a look over that list of characteristics you made on Monday and see if you can draw a relationship between your characteristics and your passions. What are you most passionate about? How might this tell you about your karma and what you are meant to manifest in this lifetime?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Day 31 - Turning the Negative into a Positive

Today's Tarka Practice
We have now talked about two different types of karma - San-chitta karma and Pralabdha karma. The next type of karma it is important to understand is Kriyamana karma.
Kriyamana karma is the karma that you are creating in this lifetime. To clarify, Pralabdha karma is all of the karma in this lifetime but Kriyamana karma is the karma you are constantly creating and adding to the Pralabdha karma tank or ocean if you will. For example, on Wednesday I talked about one of my traits - teacher as a part of my Pralabdha karma. Now, when I teach I am creating something and this act of creation creates karma.
In other words, karma can also be described as a cause-effect relationship. In my essence, I am a teacher; therefore, I teach. This act of teaching creates an effect on myself and on others. Remember, it is not a good effect or a bad effect, it is just an effect. Someone might see my teaching as either good or bad but this is not karma. Instead, this is someone bringing their own attitudes onto what I am teaching and assigning it a meaning of their own. Most likely, they will interpret my teaching in a way that is harmonious with their own karma.
To simplify this idea, what I mean here is that everyone has their own personal lens through which they see the world. This personal lens effects one's attitude towards things. What is important to understand is that you can change your attitude about something at any time. You have the power to see things in any way that you want to see them.
For today's journal entry, think about a time in which you experienced something you didn't like and had a negative attitude about it. Now, think about how you could have changed your attitude in order to experience this same thing more positively. I'll give an example for further clarity.
When my daughter was born, my pelvis separated and I couldn't walk or take care of my daughter without help. I couldn't carry her or get her a bottle or get up with her in the middle of the night. I couldn't do anything that one normally does with a newborn. I could have seen this as a very negative experience (and on some days I did). However, I thought mostly about what a great gift it was because it allowed me to spend time with my newborn. All I could do was sit in a chair all day long so this is what I did. I sat with her on my lap, holding her for the entire day. This was precious bonding time for us both. If I had been able to move around more, I might have missed out on this bonding time because I would have been very busy cleaning and cooking and tending to things.
Think of this example and write about a time when you turned a negative experience into a positive one.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Day 32 - New Beginnings

Today's Tarka Practice
Yesterday was the new moon. In yoga philosophy, this symbolizes the beginnings of things. It is an opportunity to step back, reassess and set a new goal or start a new practice. If there is something you have always wanted to try or a new habit you would like to form now is the time to begin. It is a chance for a do-over. It is a time for a change in consciousness.

In your journal, make a list of some things you would like to begin anew. Make it simple. Make it something that you can do in less than 30 minutes a day. For example, perhaps you would like to eat better. Commit to adding more fruit and veggies to your diet. Maybe you want to go back to school. Spend 30 minutes a day or less doing a little research on what it will take to get you where you want to go. Once you have selected one thing from your list do this practice until the next new moon. And, don't forget to journal about your experience. Smiles.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 33 - Beginner's Mind

Today's Tarka Practice
In celebration of the new moon on Sunday this week's theme is about beginnings.

In both the Zen Buddhist tradition and within Hindu philosophy there is a practice known as "Beginner's Mind". This practice focuses on the idea that when we begin something for the first time, we are open, vulnerable, and flexible. Because we don't know what to expect when we try something new, we have not yet created a wall, we have not yet made associations, we have not yet come to expect something specific to happen and so our minds remain open and free. In these traditions, we are asked to remain in this state of consciousness throughout the practice, and we are asked to remain in this state of consciousness in our lives - open, free, unencumbered. When we are in this state of mind, we can see the possibilities for our lives, we experience hope and joy and we can look at the world through fresh eyes.

Today, I want you to spend the entire day looking at everything as if you have never seen it before and as if you have never experienced it before. Try to look at the day through fresh eyes, look at the people you know through fresh eyes and see their beauty. At the end of the day or perhaps the next morning, write down what you experienced. How did this shift in your consciousness to beginner's mind change your everyday experience?


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Day 34 - It's A New Day

Today's Tarka Practice
The great thing about waking up every morning is that you get to start all over again. Any feelings from a previous day can be set aside and you have the chance to have a better day than the day before. If you made some mistakes you wish you hadn't made, if you had a bad day or wish you had responded differently to a friend or family member, you have the opportunity to do that today, right now, in this moment.

The beauty of being able to begin again is that you can change your thoughts, your attitude, and your life. Even if yesterday did not go as planned, you get a fresh start today. Let go of yesterday and focus on the day you wish to create today.

For today's tarka, take a piece of paper and tear it into small pieces. Write the disappointments of yesterday on these small pieces of paper. Fill a bowl with water and place the pieces of paper in the water. Watch the ink fade from the paper. As the ink fades, let go of all of those disappointments.

Go back to your journal and design your day. Write down how you would like your day to look today. If you were creating your ideal day, what would it be?


Monday, September 3, 2012

Day 35 - Ganesh Part 1

Today's Tarka Practice
As many of you already know, in Hinduism there are many gods and goddess. Why so many? Because while there is one form of ultimate reality, it can be looked upon in many ways. This is often called Brahman or Brahma. Each god and goddess represents this total reality but in a different way. Each god or goddess is a symbol for an aspect of that reality. Reality and truth can be called by many names and it can have many forms but it is still one totality.

Because using symbols in our practice can be a powerful way to connect with ourselves and heal ourselves, this week I wanted to talk about the symbolism of Ganesha. Ganesha or Ganesh can be thought of as the Lord of Beginnings and Wisdom as well as the remover of obstacles.

Ganesh has the body of a human and the head of an elephant. The head symbolizes wisdom, understanding and intellect. All things that one would need in order to have a perfect life. A perfect life is self-realization or the ability to see and understand the truth about oneself and about reality. Your task, then, is to use your wisdom and intellect to come to an understanding of yourself/reality. In other words, you are to use the wisdom you gain in your practice to move towards greater enlightenment. You are Ganesh. Ganesh is you. You can remove your own obstacles. Obstacles are removed by gaining greater wisdom.

For today's tarka practice, I want you to think about the obstacles in your life. What do you see as your greatest obstacles?


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Day 36 - Ganesh Part 2

Today's Tarka Practice
This week we are talking about the symbolism of Ganesh. You may want to go back and read part 1 first.

Ganesh has the large ears of the elephant (rather than human ears) and this represents the idea that we should listen more. We need to listen more to our inner wisdom (intuition); we need to listen more to others when they are speaking  and we need to listen more to the beliefs and ideas that are being presented to us. When we are listening to these ideas, we need to determine whether or not they are bringing us closer to self-realization or farther away. For example, harboring anger towards someone and carrying that anger with us all of the time will bring us farther away from self-realization, but forgiving someone might bring us closer to self-realization.

For today's reflection think about the experiences you have had over the past week and write them down. See if you can identify what experiences brought you closer to self-realization and what experiences brought you farther away. For example, your journal entry might look like this:

Got frustrated with my son and shouted at him - this brought me farther away

Gave my husband the opportunity to go to a workshop in his field on the weekend - brought me closer self-realization

Studied some passages in the Gita - brought me closer to self-realization

Found my mind wandering to my own obstacles when my friend was discussing hers - brought me farther away


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Day 37 - Ganesh Part 3

Today's Tarka Practice
This week we are talking about the symbolism of Ganesh. You may want to go back and read parts 1 and 2 first.

At the feet of Ganesh lies food for the taking. This represents that the whole world is there for your asking. In other words, this world is abundant rather than lacking and we can partake in this abundance. We are not meant to deny ourselves or fear scarcity but to embrace all that is available to us.

How many times have you sacrificed something you wanted because you thought there wasn't enough to go around? Sacrifice is not needed because there is plenty for all. Most of us do not see the abundance in the world. Our fear covers it. However, when you awaken, when you move towards greater self-awareness, when you gain wisdom through self-realization, you will see greater and greater abundance and greater and greater beauty.

Here, I am reminded of the book and movie The Celestine Prophecy. If you view the movie, it can give you a visual experience of what it means to awaken to abundance and beauty. The characters that have awakened "see" the world differently. It glistens and shines. It is beautiful as it glows. It is heaven on earth. The characters that have not awakened see the dull, darker, world that is less beautiful, that is plain, that is bland, that is violent, greedy and selfish.

All we have to do is metaphorically "open our eyes" to see this beautiful, abundant world.

For your journal practice set aside some time to watch the movie or pick up the book. After watching the movie or reading the book, write down your thoughts. How did you react to the movie/book? What did it make you think about? Were you able to see more abudance in your life after watching/reading? How can you carry this practice into your life everyday?