Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Yoga of the Heart

The Practice of Heartfulness-
Yoga of the Heart
"I looked for God in all the temples and mosques of the world and I found God in my own Heart. "
Mevlana Rumi- 13th cent. Sufi mystic of Turkey.

The River that flows in you flows in me. -Kabir

Yoga- Union and Connection

    I am going to use the word yoga now because it is a word that is well known in Western culture despite its Sanskrit roots in Hindu culture. It is commonly associated in the West with the practice and discipline of postural (asana) yoga as a physical discipline. However, the term yoga means union or joining. The English word yoke as a noun or a verb is a derivative of yoga and refers to this same process of joining together or union. In the Hindu tradition, yoga refers to the multiple pathways by which we actualize and make conscious the union of human with Divine consciousness within the soul. In the Hindu tradition there are many disciplines of yoga that make virtually all human activity a potential form of yoga or union with the Divine, and all authentic yoga is a form or dimension of the Yoga of the Heart or spiritual center. In yoga as spiritual practice, human friendship, conjugal love (tantra), compassionate service and care-giving (karma),  devotional love (bhakti), and  meditational heart presence (raja),  everything in our life,  becomes a practice of yoga or union with the Divine Beloved, when we center in the heart. All human life, everything we do, can become a pathway to the heart or a dimension of Yoga of the Heart.

    Spirituality is connection, communion, joining our human awareness with Divine Awareness, joining our human soul with Divine Soul, and realizing we were never separate. Spirituality is yoga, heart yoga in all things, and bringing all of our human life into alignment and connection with Divine Life. The human soul hungers most deeply, not for religion, but for the conscious experience of Divine union and connection. For us this is coming Home, and there finding who we are, our true identity and belonging, in our union with the Divine and all beings. For some, religion can assist in conducting a conscious spiritual life. For too many, religion is an obstruction to, or diversion from, authentic spiritual life.

Heart Presence
As I Walk with Beauty
As I walk, as I walk
The universe is walking with me
In beauty it walks before me
In beauty it walks behind me
In beauty it walks below me
In beauty it walks above me
Beauty is on every side
As I walk, I walk with Beauty. -Navajo Prayer

To walk in beauty is to walk in Heart Presence. Heart Presence is not just being mentally awake. Heart Presence is consciously dwelling in pure Being or Presence, one way of understanding what Being is. The process of soul healing is the healing of our human presence into Universal Presence. We participate in that process through the practice of Heart Yoga, In Centering in the Heart in formal meditation we encounter and experience Heart Presence in stillness and quiet sitting. In Heart Yoga we bring that same quality of being, the same practice of Centering in the Heart into all of life, into all relationships, into all activity and service.

    In centering in the heart or heart presence in daily life our reference point and home is the heart. We recognize this interior space and sanctuary as the space where we experience interior peace, and our capacity to love deeply and fully, love as self-offering. We experience this space close to the location of the anatomical heart in the center of the chest and sternum. We can breathe from and into this space and our breath can help guide our conscious awareness to that space and anchor our abiding there. If we have a chosen mantra or sacred word aligned with our breath, it can also help us anchor our conscious awareness there. Sufism calls this muqtaba of putting the mind into the heart. Likewise Eastern Christian mystics call this hesychasm or the interior quiet of putting the mind (conscious awareness) into the heart.

The Ear of the Heart and Moral Discernment
“Immersing our self into the heart we allow the energy of love to slow down the mind and its many thoughts, until we arrive at a state of empty receptivity, in which we patiently wait within the heart…. In this interior place we come to hear the words of our Beloved, experience divine presence, or merge deeper into the silence that belongs to love. … Listening within the heart is attuning ourself to our Beloved. We develop the ear of the Heart, the inner listening of the soul.” (Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee, Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism)

    Hence in Heart Presence we walk in Beauty Itself, we walk in Love Itself, and with the ear of the heart open, we listen to what is in harmony with the Beloved and what is not. In this way we align our path, our actions with Love’s way, and experience deeply the sorrow that comes from not doing so. This interior listening is the source of all ethical, moral choice and behavior. This is what it means to walk in Beauty in Heart Presence.  Sorrow itself can be what the mystics call the “gift of tears.”  To feel personally and deeply when harm comes to beings, arises from unitive love, being one with Oneness Itself, the One Life that animates us all. From this comes forth all just and compassionate discernment and action, all moral commitment. Morality is no longer a rule or an ideal, but a felt Presence.

Heart Presence and Soul Healing
   From this Oneness comes the healing of our existential alienation and aloneness. We experience that we are never alone, always in communion with the One who loved us into existence and sustains our life and spirit. We are always Home and never a stranger or estranged. In this state the craving for substitutes and diversions that arise from spiritual alienation falls away, and the heart is our true Home, the Beloved our true dwelling place and security. Our journey is one of always coming home again and again throughout our life, no matter how far we may wander or be distracted or diverted. The Practice of Heart Yoga brings us Home. We come to experience that our heart’s desire finds completion within and that ultimately we are more the sought than seeker, the one whom Love seeks and finds. “In the silent niche of the heart the lover experiences the truth that there is only one prayer that underlies all creation-the prayer in which the Beloved is present, not as a personal God or Creator, but as something both inexpressible and intimate In this innermost recognition of the heart the lover recognizes the Beloved as something inseparable from oneself. … only the Beloved exists.” (Vaughn-Lee, Prayer of the Heart…..)

Healing the Eye of the Heart
    In our healing of soul we heal and open the ear of the heart. And we also heal the eye and vision of the heart to behold the Original Light.  In our intimacy with the Beloved we come to behold the Beloved in all things, in all life. In the words of the 9th century Celtic mystic, John Scotus Eriugena, we “recover the true beholding of the Light with our inner eyes” of the heart. (Newell,  Listening to the Heartbeat of God ) When we are intimate with the Beloved we learn to behold the Light of the Beloved within the entire universe in things animate and inanimate, in all beings who share the One Life with us. In this way we are able to consciously walk in Beauty, the Beauty of the Beloved, whose heartbeat we hear and whose Light we behold through the inner eye and Voice we hear with the ear of the heart.  

The ancient Celt mystics said it this way:
God before me,
 God behind me,
God beneath me,
 God above me,
God all around me.
God within me

From Fear and Obsession to Freedom and Interior Safety
In heart presence we continue to lay down our obsession with past conditions and grievances, and our future expectations to simply come back to the eternal NOW, being present in the heart, anchoring with our breathing and our sacred word.

Releasing from the Ego-Mind and Its Motivations
Our mental motivations of the egoic mind of separateness are often fear based and designed to control external conditions.  They are driven by the compulsions of the ego to enhance and protect our misdirected drives for control, affection, and security.  Through the practice of ceaseless heart presence we continually open to see our hidden motivations of the mind, truthfully, as they are, however twisted and misdirected.  Through heart presence we release the motivations and creations of the thinking mind and return to the intention of the Heart to simply abide in our deepest loving intention.  Through the continual return to centering in heart presence, we return to loving kindness as our deepest motivation, and experience the internal security of our true dwelling place.

Faithfulness, Breath, and Sacred Word- Our Homing Pigeon
We may often find our attention wandering.  Therefore we gently return in all activity, continually, to communion with the True Being, the Beloved who welcomes the wandering soul back home. This ceaseless desire to return home, no matter what, no matter how badly we've  "blown it,” how far we have been misdirected, how far we've wandered, is the basic practice, and life-long movement. The return to ceaseless heart presence is facilitated when we find a few places in the day of external quiet when we can re-establish our interior anchor in abiding through breath and sacred word.

In this way we find that we are always at home in Life, in true Being, in the secret garden of the spirit, in our own heart.

One of my Zen teachers along the way, Willigis Jager, says it this way,

"Life, which we may call God, the Absolute, the Ultimate,
Reality, True Being, … permeates and expresses
Self in everything. This True Being is the heart of our existence.
God is the Being out of which we live; God is the being
that lives in us and through us. We are God's form 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Yoga of Soul-Friending

Heartfulness in Close Relationships
The Yoga of Soul Friending (Anam Cara)

Many people I know experience their greatest feelings of communion and connection, of being understood and loved,  in long term relationships of friendship. Indeed for many the life of the spirit may be most deeply felt with true heart friends.

In our walk through the awakened spiritual life we live the practice of Heart Presence in interior silence and in the middle of life and relationships. Our shared experience of Heart Presence occurs in friendship with other beings, whether they be human or other living beings. With our human friendships there are some where we feel a strong heart resonation that brings us a profound experience of intimacy and loving support, as though our inner radiance of Heart Presence is mingled with another. Such a relationship in the Celtic tradition is called a soul-friend, or anam cara (dear soul). 

The Anam Cara Relationship

Brigid of Kildare, the druid priestess and later Christian mystic of 7th century Ireland asserted that the most vital element on the spiritual journey is one's "Anam Cara." Anam Cara actually  translates as "dear soul." It means a relationship of intimacy and trust, of spiritual communion that is profound and life-sustaining. For the human being on the journey some of us may be fortunate to find for a time a human "anam cara" who companions us and we companion them, for a time on the Way, whose love, support, acceptance, and total regard for our well-being is without measure. Such a friendship is precious and those who enjoy it cherish and nurture this shared bond for all the ways it nurtures the soul and expands the heart. In this relationship we find safety and sanctuary, a safe and sacred refuge in the soul and psyche of another who receives us in love, as we are in our humanity and as we are in tenderness and exquisite sensitivity of the spirit.

The anam cara  friendship draws its life from the Light that is greater that lives in and through both friends. The anam cara relationship arises from the Divine Anam Cara relationship, mutually shared with another being. Sometimes that being is an animal friend. For many humans that being might be a dog, cat, or a horse, those animal friends with whom we share our life. In later life I had a ten year relationship with a female black labrador in a mutual love and constant companionship that was nurturing and exquisite, and whose passing brought profound grief, but also gratitude for the shared journey together. In this way the love and safety of the Divine Anam Cara flows through another being to us, and through us to them in a way that validates and enlivens our spirit beyond measure. We open to be  such safety and refuge to another, as well as to receive it. Such intimacy between beings brings joy and purpose to living.  This friendship in where we experience love and intimacy brings us to joy and completion.

David Steindl-Rast, the Benedictine monk and contemplative writer, in his book Gratefulness- the Heart of Prayer, states that everything written or said about spirituality is about belonging. The central wound of the human condition is the loss of our experience of intimate belonging here in the incarnate universe. It may be understood that the healing of this wound is the recovery of a lived awareness of our ancient and innate belonging in the circle of Divine Life itself. This experience and awareness is one of an intimacy with the Divine that is our birthright. We are loved into existence by our Source from all eternity. We can awaken to this  ancient and ever present Love and that our very life and essence partake of the Greater Life that is Love Itself through the yoga (union) of Heart Presence that joins us consciously and intentionally with our Divine Beloved and shared with our soul friends who walk with us. 

The Sufi mystic, Rumi, simply called the Divine, "Friend." Jesus called his followers, male and female, “Friends” . True friendship in Heart Presence  with our human and Divine Beloved is the vital way we heal the wound of separateness and find connection and communion with the Source of Life. In soul friendships we feel the safety to bring forth the fullness of Heart Presence with another, and to receive in mutuality their bestowal of the gift of unguarded and safe Heart Presence.

The Divine Beloved- Our Heart’s Anam Cara

The essence of spirituality is connection, the life of communion with all life, all beings. Hence we are never alone in our life's journey. A vital aspect of this is the trust that the Heart of the Universe is both intimately personal and oceanic in our experience of It. In its personal face we can be in a conscious and intentional relationship of friendship with the personal face of the Divine and the Divine Friend in our human or animal soul friend. The ultimate spiritual teacher and soul friend is within us and always accessible for our grounding and guidance. Mystics from all traditions throughout time have found ways to name and personify the Divine, often using human relationships as metaphor. 

For many this relationship is experienced with such intensity and longing that it can only be summed up as a Divine Friend and Lover, who is our heart's desire and life's fulfillment. The Divine Anam Cara therefore is often called "Beloved" by practitioners of diverse traditions. In the transient life's journey where our human beloveds are  transitory companions with human limits, the assurance and ongoing presence of the Divine Beloved is a ceaseless comfort and security. Whatever term we use in addressing our Divine Anam Cara, whatever human metaphor we use to define our relationship with the Divine, it must come from within us, in a way that represents and defines absolute safety and healing, a refuge that is beyond question for us, a refuge that is mirrored in the safety we experience with our human and creature anam caras, as we walk the difficult path of life, a refuge that is at long last ‘Home’. And just as in a human friendship, this Divine "dear soul" becomes the trusted friend and confidant of our life. When we seek for direction, when we seek for healing, when we seek for the love that never fails, our Dear Soul, the Friend, is there, by whatever name or metaphor we may choose. 

We are One with Our Anam Cara.

The growth of the path of Heart Presence takes us inevitably to the insight that there is no distance between ourselves, and our Dear Soul who walks with us. They are the same footprints. Our Divine Anam Cara is living, moving, loving, healing fully present in us, both in our resistance and ignorance, and in our awakening to the life of unitive love and purpose. The true Seeker of the Heart and the One being Sought are the same. We come Home and find we have never truly left. All the while the Friend has traveled in us, living the totality of the human journey in us, whether we have known it or not. When we live our life with this awareness it is rich, and full, deep and joyful, and never easy or without challenge. “Love is the source, center, and destiny of experience.” John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

A Friendship Blessing

May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where
there is great love, warmth feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of your belonging with your 
Anam Cara.
(John O’Donohue, Anam Cara)