Slowly but surely the yoga room is coming along. So far, we have put in french doors and added windows to one wall of the meditation room. The single window in the far wall is coming out and another set of really large french doors will take its place. :)
The window in the background of this meditation room is coming out. In its place will be large french doors. When you walk into the meditation room from the main yoga room, this is directly in front of you. The two windows are to your right. And the other pair of french doors are to your right as well, along the same wall as the entryway into the room.
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." ~~ Antoine De Saint-Exupery
WHEN I WAS ABOUT SIX YEARS OLD I received the essential bodhichitta teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, "Little girl, don't you go letting life harden your heart."
Right there, I received this pith instruction: we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.
If we were to ask the Buddha, "What is bodhichitta?" he might tell us that this word is easier to understand than to translate. He might encourage us to seek out ways to find its meaning in our own lives. He might tantalize us by adding that it is only bodhichitta that heals, that bodhichitta is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts and the most prejudiced and fearful of minds.
Chitta means "mind" and also "heart" or "attitude." Bodhi means "awake," "enlightened," or "completely open." Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place of vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the cruelest of people have this soft spot. Even the most vicious of animals love their offspring. As Trungpa Rinpoche put it, "Everybody loves something, even if it's only tortillas."
Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion--our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot--our innate ability to love and to care about things--is like a crack in these walls we erect. It's a natural opening in the barriers we create when we're afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment--love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy--to awaken bodhichitta.
An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we're arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.
The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment. Even at the times we feel most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state. This is a revolutionary assertion. Even ordinary people like us with hang-ups and confusion have this mind of enlightenment called bodhichitta. The openness and warmth of bodhichitta is in fact our true nature and condition. Even when our neurosis feels far more basic than our wisdom, even when we're feeling most confused and hopeless, bodhichitta--like the open sky--is always here, undiminished by the clouds that temporarily cover it.
Given that we are so familiar with the clouds, of course, we may find the Buddha's teaching hard to believe. Yet the truth is that in the midst of our suffering, in the hardest of times, we can contact this noble heart of bodhichitta. It is always available, in pain as well as in joy.
A young woman wrote to me about finding herself in a small town in the Middle East surrounded by people jeering, yelling, and threatening to throw stones at her and her friends because they were Americans. Of course, she was terrified, and what happened to her was interesting. Suddenly she identified with every person throughout history who had ever been scorned and hated. She understood what it was like to be despised for any reason: ethnic group, racial background, sexual preference, gender. Something cracked wide open and she stood in the shoes of millions of oppressed people and saw with a new perspective. She even understood her shared humanity with those who hated her. This sense of deep connection, of belonging to the same family, is bodhichitta.
Bodhichitta exists on two levels. First there is unconditional bodhichitta, an immediate experience that is refreshingly free of concept, opinion, and our usual all-caught-upness. It's something hugely good that we are not able to pin down even slightly, like knowing at gut level that there's absolutely nothing to lose. Second there is relative bodhichitta, our ability to keep our heart and minds open to suffering without shutting down.
Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening unconditional and relative bodhichitta are called bodhisattvas or warriors--not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire. Training in the middle of the fire can mean that warrior-bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering. It also refers to their willingness to cut through personal reactivity and self-deception, to their dedication to uncovering the basic undistorted energy of bodhichitta. We have many examples of master warriors--people like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King--who recognize that the greatest harm comes from our own aggressive minds. They devoted their lives to helping others understand this truth. There are also many ordinary people who spend their lives training in opening their hearts and minds in order to help others do the same. Like them, we could learn to relate to ourselves and our world as warriors. We could train in awakening our courage and love.
There are both formal and informal methods for helping us to cultivate this bravery and kindness. There are practices for nurturing our capacity to rejoice, to let go, to love, and to shed a tear. There are those that teach us to stay open to uncertainty. There are others that help us to stay present at the times that we habitually shut down.
Wherever we are, we can train as a warrior. The practices of meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity are our tools. With the help of these practices, we can uncover the soft spot of bodhichitta. We will find it behind the hardness of rage and in the shakiness of fear. It is available in loneliness as well as in kindness.
Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn't work that way. A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it's also what makes us afraid.
Bodhichitta training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather, this "I" who wants to find security--who wants something to hold on to--can finally learn to grow up. The central question of a warrior's training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day?
All too frequently we relate like timid birds who don't dare to leave the nest. Here we sit in a nest that's getting pretty smelly and that hasn't served its function for a very long time. No one is arriving to feed us. No one is protecting us and keeping us warm. And yet we keep hoping mother bird will arrive.
We could do ourselves the ultimate favor and finally get out of that nest. That this takes courage is obvious. That we could use some helpful hints is also clear. We may doubt that we're up to being a warrior-in-training. But we can ask ourselves this question: "Do I prefer to grow and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?"
All beings have the capacity to feel tenderness--to experience heartbreak, pain, and uncertainty. Therefore the enlightened heart of bodhichitta is available to us all. The insight meditation teacher Jack Kornfield tells of witnessing this in Cambodia during the time of the Khmer Rouge. Fifty thousand people had become communist at gunpoint, threatened with death if they continued their Buddhist practices. In spite of the danger, a temple was established in the refugee camp, and twenty thousand people attended the opening ceremony. There were no lectures or prayers but simply continuous chanting of one of the central teachings of Buddha:
Hatred never ceases by hatred
But by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.
Thousands of people chanted and wept, knowing that the truth in these words was even greater than their suffering.
Bodhichitta has this kind of power. It will inspire and support us in good times and bad. It is like discovering a wisdom and courage we do not even know we have. Just as alchemy changes any metal into gold, bodhichitta can, if we let it, transform any activity, word, or thought into a vehicle for awakening our compassion.
Dedicated to my sister, Bobbi.
Taken from THE PLACES THAT SCARE YOU, by Pema Chodron.
I express the wish that we will apply the teachings in our everyday lives and thus free ourselves and others from suffering. I encourage you to keep an open mind. This is often likened to the wonder of a child seeing the world without preconceptions. As the Zen master Suzuki Roshi put it, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."
I dedicate the merit of this blog to all beings. This gesture of universal friendship has been likened to a drop of fresh spring water. If we put it on a rock in the sunshine, it will soon evaporate. If we put it in the ocean, however, it will never be lost. Thus the wish is made that we not keep the teachings to ourselves but use them to benefit others.
This approach reflects what are called the three noble principles: good in the beginning, good in the middle, good at the end. They can be used in all the activities of our lives. We can begin anything we do--start our day, eat a meal, or walk into a meeting--with the intention to be open, flexible, and kind. Then we can proceed with an inquisitive attitude. "Live your life as an experiment."
At the end of this activity, whether we feel we have succeeded or failed in our intention, we seal the act by thinking of others, of those who are succeeding and failing all over the world. We wish that anything we learned in our experiment could also benefit them.
In this spirit, I offer this blog of accumulated thoughts and teachings I've gained from others. May it be of benefit at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. May it help move us toward the places that scare us. May it inform our lives and help us to die with no regrets.
The Blessed Yoga Studio was brought into being by the two loves of my life: my partner and my love of spiritual spaces. The beginnings have been quite humble, when, after a period of studying and practicing on my own around Sedona, (with the hope of creating a home for Ashtanga Yoga... where people could develop their practice in the town,) I began by teaching a friend or two at their homes or in the wilderness of Sedona.
Over and over I was told by my fellow yogis how they desired a place to practice yoga outside their own home that was still private and special like our one on one sessions tended to be... A place away from the distractions made by pets, children, cell phones or pending chores. With a growing number of enthusiastic practitioners, I started to play with the idea of opening my own studio, which would foster the growing Ashtanga/Vinyasa community in Sedona. While searching for the ideal location, an auspicious moment occurred when I walked into the lower level of my split level home one gorgeous early morning. Climbing the stairs down to the bottom floor, I was greeted by the familiar scent of incense burning in my office, and realized that this room constantly draws me into its soft embrace. When I first walked into the room of this original space, it was warm, with a window in the front that was facing the sunrise as it came up over Sedona. I knelt down in front of the window, taking it all in. Before long I realized I’d found my place. This location, so far the original Blessed Yoga Studio, was little more than a one-room studio, with a bathroom to provide change rooms and a closet to put yoga equipment. But with tender loving care I am slowly creating a space filled with quiet love, Prana and early morning sunrises that take your breath away. Over time, my sweetheart Mike and I have created a backyard oasis and have made the final decisions in regards to the renovation of the whole lower level of our home. We are basically knocking out closets, walls, adding a fireplace, french doors that span two walls that face out both east and south, a private entrance and patio, access to the garden, hardwood floors, mirrors and a yoga/ayurveda library... additional lush plants, hammocks, pillows and alter will be the final touches.
My goal is to provide to others the space they have always wanted in their own homes. A space that they can come to at any time, just to be. To practice with me or on their own. To read and study yoga books, or just talk to a friend.
I hope that over the next three years, Sedona's Blessed Yoga and the space we create together will establish itself as the place to practice yoga in Sedona when you need to just "get away", "drop out" and come back to yourself. I’m confident that with time, the need for a larger studio may become necessary, and at that time I will take a walk along 89A and most likely come upon the space for our next Blessed Yoga Studio.
Until then, Sedona's Blessed Yoga seeks to connect with all those interested in enhancing their lives through yoga in a space they built themselves. From the ground up, with their beautiful presence, love, mantra, prana and grace.
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being. ~ Ashley