Sky-like Mind

Rockaway Beach, Oct. 25/2015

Rockaway Beach, Oct. 25/2015

A perennial idea that I learned from yoga and  Buddhist meditation teachers is that our minds can both close down to a very narrow view of things, and also open up and see a very wide-open view of things that includes all-beings and all things. So, which view is closer to our True Nature?

In her book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears, Pema Chodron wrote::

"So this is our challenge, the challenge for our spiritual practice and the challenge for the world--how can we train right now, not later, in feeding the right wolf {within our hearts}? How can we call on our innate intelligence to see what helps and what hurts, what escalates aggression and what uncovers our good-heartedness? With the global economy in chaos and the environment of the planet at risk, with war raging and suffering escalating, it is time for each of us in our own lives to take the leap and do whatever we can to help turn things around. Event the slightest gesture toward feeding the right wolf will help. Now more than ever, we are all in this together."

These words, though written some 5 years ago, seem so relevant and even more prescient now. Taking time to slow down and practice something like yoga and/or meditation is definitely something we can do that is a step in the right direction. Leo Tolstoy said:

"Everyone thinks about changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."

The message is that in order to help turn things around in the larger world, we have to work on turning things around in the inner world first. So our challenge in our yoga practice is to recognize when we are getting worked up and becoming competitive with ourselves and with each other. Our challenge is to notice when we are beating ourselves up for not feeling adequate and gently bringing our hearts back towards compassion for ourselves. Our challenge is not to escalate aggression within, but rather pause and be kinder to ourselves. Even a small bit of self-compassion can go a long way.

Pema Chodron continues:

"... We all have the ability to interrupt old habits. ... the potential for goodness exists in all beings, ... everyone, everywhere, all over the globe, has these qualities and can call on them to help themselves and others. ... basic goodness is natural openness, the spaciousness of our skyline minds. Fundamentally, our minds are expansive, flexible, and curious; they are pre-prejudice, so to speak. This is the condition of mind before we narrow down into a fear-based view where everyone is either an enemy or a friend, a threat or an ally, this mind that we have, that you and I each have, is open. We can connect with that openness at any time. For instance, right now, for three seconds, just stop reading and pause."

This one word - "pause" - has been significant for me. I practiced pausing in more moments of my life over the last month as a result recognizing the wisdom of this psychic imperative. As I traveled from class to class, or sat down at my computer to do my work, or practiced sitting meditation, I realized pausing is a useful tool to help get me further ahead. When we practice deep breathing in yoga, it is form of "pausing," taking time to not rush through things and opening our minds up to a wider view.

Pema continues:

"... natural openness, is always available. This openness is not something that needs to be manufactured. When we pause, when we touch the energy of the moment, when we slow down and allow a gap, self-existing openness comes to us. It does not require a particular effort. It is available anytime."

From a yoga perspective, an open -- "sky-like" -- mind is the natural state of our mind. Problem is -- life gets in the way and our mind gets bogged down. It takes courage to slow down. It takes courage to even touch the energy of the moment, as Pema suggests above that we do. Some moments, we know, can feel quite hot! I have a feeling that the minds of the Olympic Gold Medal sprinter Michael Johnson and the iconic basketball player Michael Jordan are actually quite open and expansive and sky-like, particularly in the heat of the moment, whether it be at the last few meters of the 100 meter dash or the last minute of the 4th quarter of a close championship game.  They both have the courage to touch the heat of the moment and stay with it. I am not a professional athlete at the level of either, but sometimes this past month I found myself needing to sprint to get to my classes. Even as I ran as fast as I could, I tried to mimic professional sprinters and I found that my mind was actually able to relax and open, rather than tighten from the fear that came on from thinking I would be late for my class. Whether I was moving fast or slow, I discovered that I could indeed touch natural openness if I simply touched the energy of the current moment and focussed on my breaths.

Pema offers a suggests through this inspiring story:

"The next time you're getting worked up, experiment with looking at the sky. Go to the window, if you have one in your home or office, and look up at the sky. I once read an interview with a man who said that during the Second World War, he survived internment in a Japanese concentration camp by looking at the sky and seeing the clouds still drifting there and the birds still flying there. This gave him trust that the goodness of life would go on despite the atrocities that he was witnessing.

Manhattan is filled with numerous tall buildings. As I walked in the area near the massive Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan recently, I stared up and seemed to see more building than sky. Yet, when I paused and really took in the picture, I realized that actually there is more sky than building even here in one of the densest parts of Manhattan. Last week, my mind was bogged down with worries over several massive projects I had going on at once. I found comfort in imagining my mind to be like sky, and tried to remember that eventually these worries would drift away. They did.

Manhattan from the ground up

Manhattan from the ground up

Pema adds: 

"As [my teacher] Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once remarked, 'Openness is like the wind. If you open your doors and windows, it's bound to come in'."

Use your yoga practice to train yourself to "open the door and let the wind in." That wind is always there, if you will just allow. It is the doorway to creating a spacious, sky-like mind.

A tight mind sees few possibilities. A spacious mind sees many. Now, not later, choose.

Metta Phrases:
May I know what helps and what hurts, ...
May I pause, ...
May I slow down and allow a gap, ...
May I touch natural openness, ...
May I keep the door to Higher Awareness open, ...
... for the benefit of all beings.