Winter 2016 Newsletter

Hari OM everyone

My final newsletter of 2016 comes with good wishes for a very peaceful and joyful festive period to all my students and their  loved ones.  This time last year I sent out a newsletter decorated with little trees and starry snowflakes, but I don't know how to do that with this new format.  So you'll have to do the "advanced practice"...visualize them!

All my classes are now on a break until w/b January 9th 2017. 

One of the philosophical themes in the autumn term was Living an ethical life off the mat.

We looked each week at one of the Yamas, the succinct guides to our behaviour towards others recommended by Sage Patanjali in Chapter 2 of his Yoga Sutras. We've had some great discussions, so here's a reminder of some of what we covered:

The  purpose behind practising the 5 Yamas  is to calm the mind and prepare it for meditation practice. They are basic guidelines for living a life of personal fulfilment in respect of our relationships with others. Patanjali makes clear the consequences of not following those precepts: simply that we will continue to suffer. One verse I love explains why we aspire to practice them:

"These are called the

great universal vows

when they are extended unconditionally 

to nurture everyone,

regardless of status,

place, time or circumstance."

 A high aspiration especially at the present time of trouble in all corners of the planet.  

Reflecting on them and trying to live in accordance with them may help refine our intentions for our practice. The Yamas aren't harsh rules but a description of human potential. They offer us the means to live with deeper consciousness, integrity and joy. Applying them to our lives one at a time, perhaps keeping a note in a little diary, makes a very worthwhile practice. The five Yamas are:

Ahimsa - non-violence - avoidance of harm to any other sentient being.

Heads the list, and is seen as the root of the other four yamas.  Non-violence encompasses giving up the spirit of malice or hatred, including avoiding the violence of harsh thoughts, words, and of course deeds.  Mahatma Gandhi is often quoted as the exemplar of the practice of Ahimsa.

 Satya – truthfulness

Truthfulness defined as one's words and thoughts being in exact correspondence.  Lively discussion about modern political discourse, in the week of the presidential election in the USA.  An important aspect of Satya is to try to express your vision of truth in a way that does the least harm and preferably does good.  No words can reflect truth unless they flow from the spirit of non-violence.

Asteya, non-stealing; sometimes translated as honesty or integrity

Lots of interpretations of how to practice this, ranging from the obvious one of not being light-fingered with other people’s property to making sure we don’t steal the ideas or time of others, share unwillingly, or buy too much for our needs.  

Brahmacharya – Variously interpreted as celibacy, chastity, moderation.  In a narrow sense, Brahmacharya is sexual abstinence, believed to be essential in developing the inner vigour needed to go forward in spiritual practice.  More broadly, Mahatma Gandhi defines Brahmacharya as "control of the senses in thought, word and deed". Other commentators call it "moderation".  Another lively discussion!  Have more modern translations watered it down or is it that the original commentators from centuries ago were all men, perhaps struggling with the vital forces inherent in human life?  A translation  I like by Mukunda Stiles is:

By abiding in behaviour that respects the Divine as ever-present, one acquires an inspired passion for life. (Chapter 2, verse 38)

Aparigraha - freedom from greed, non-covetousness

One who perseveres on the path of non-covetousness gains deep understanding of the meaning of life. One who is not greedy is secure.  He has time to think deeply if not preoccupied by acquiring unnecessary goods. Some wry observations about how hard it is to practice this in the present throw-away society! 

Next term we'll continue with the five Niyamas, personal principles of positive action. 

All classes learned a new mantra, which developed beautifully over the last few weeks, Om Mani Padme Hum.  One of the members of the Bathgate class recorded us chanting it and I can send round a link to the recording on request; please email me. 

See you all in the new year, I hope.

with love and OMMMMs