|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - June 2019|
Japa, Silence and Atma-tattva-avalokanam
by Stephen Parker (Stoma)
[This is from a transcript of a session with Stephen Parker (Stoma) at the 2019 Sangha Gathering at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama. This is Part 3 of 4 parts. To read Parts 1 or 2, please click on appropriate part: Part 1 and Part 2.]
I remember when I was for a few years on the board of The Meditation Center in Minneapolis. One of the things that is important to remember about Swami Veda’s organizations is that they always ran rough. Always. No such thing as a smoothly running organization with Swami Veda. There is always lots of back and forth and contention about stuff. Being a well-trained therapist for a long time and an organisational consultant, I ran around trying to fix it. Then one day I was sitting and watching some kind of conflict go on between two people and the thought suddenly came in my mind, “Stoma, it is not supposed to get fixed. It is supposed to be this way. This is how he facilitates emotional purification in people.” And if there wasn’t enough rough running going on, he would create it! He’d give a job to somebody and then two minutes later, after that person had left, he’d call in somebody else and give him the same job. And he usually picked two people who didn’t like each other. He’d set up a big conflict about it.
Ashutosh [Sharma] has some beautiful stories about this. In his early days with Swami Veda, he would go through the roof: “I can’t stand that person, he is driving me crazy!” And Swami Ji would say, “Ashutosh, they are just holding up a mirror to your own mind. They don’t make you angry. They only show you your anger that is already there.” And for most of us, this is such an important lesson to learn. It really helps learning to dance with these kinds of situations, and it frees you up from having to get stressed out about them. Obviously, you do the best you can, especially those of you that are teachers and center leaders to facilitate a good outcome. And in the long run, we get those good outcomes.
I was just in Hungary, and in addition to teacher training stuff, we did a couple of events to release the Hungarian translation of my book on emotional purification. In the last event that happened just before I left, somebody came to that event that I and several other people have had some real difficulty with. We had a wonderful conversation that just made all of that go into the past. And I actually have heard a whole bunch of stories of that nature in that last week which has been really good to hear. And that was how it was with Swami Veda. Things will always come around in the long run.
Take me for example. I ran away from the tradition four or five times for one reason or another. And every time something brought me back. Different things at different times. Very often, it was my showing up at some event, and Swami Ritavan was there to say, “Welcome home.” He always said this to me. And I really needed to hear that at those times. It made all the difference in the world. Even in those times when people feel like they have to take some distance from their practice or from the organisation for a while, this is only temporary.
Once you are linked by that initiation, the Guru’s got you. You can’t get away. You will come back. Sooner or later--maybe not even in this lifetime, but it will happen. Absolutely it will happen. And I have the most beautiful gift of being able to go from place to place and see what this family is like in the whole world. I wish I could just transplant that experience into your mind to see how lovely that is. It is so lovely that it just made my mind go quiet. But it is a wonderful gift to be able to see this in people. Often when I go to a new place, I will almost always meet somebody I recognise, but do not know. And these experiences are just bizarre because sometimes the feelings are just so deep and so strong.
I can remember one person again in Hungary that I met some years ago. He had come for mantra initiation, and there was just this intense love between us, unbelievable. And the problem was I spoke no Hungarian and he spoke no English so we just sat across the room from each other, looking at each other with all of this stuff to say and no way to say it. But I know when those things happen that I am meeting somebody who is coming back. I am meeting someone who has been drawn back into relationship by the Guru somehow for some reason. And that is a really beautiful thing that gives me a really solid sense of faith in how the Guru does its work, especially at the times when the Guru’s work seems to be disruptive. And the thing that gets you through this is deepening this threefold process of japa, silence and atma-tattva-avalokanam.
If you really do that, you cultivate these beautiful qualities that are described in Sutra 33 of Chapter 1 of the Yoga Sutras: friendliness, compassion, joyful mindedness. In some ways, I think that is the best one. It is what the Dalai Lama means when he talks about people seeking happiness. It is not ordinary happiness. It is joy. It is not happiness that comes from the satisfaction of desires. It is happiness that comes from selfless love, from feeling what other people feel, from knowing what the lives of other people are like on the inside. And it is a wonderful thing even if what is inside is painful. It is also what we feel when we grow.
For dealing with the rough spots in life, however, the most important attitude is the last one, upeksha, non-reactivity, the ability to overlook people’s shortcomings. As Swami Rama used to say, ‘Don’t respond to how the person is acting now. Respond to the person that you know they can become.’ That is such a beautiful attitude. What results from that is the ability to have a sense of presence from people that can withstand some of this rough running that we encounter from time to time. And as you go deeper and deeper into that attitude, into your ‘lazy person’s yoga’, even just watching your breath, every once in a while, I just close my eyes, and the feeling of the breath just says to me ‘You are alive! There you are.’ Just like you would say it to a new born. You get the childlike sense of presence, and it is as important for you to be able to have that with yourself as it is to have with other people. It is wonderful to just feel your breath and know that is what it is to be alive. So, practice lazy man’s yoga, make the effort you need to make to learn the basic skills but then work on letting go, letting go, letting go.
I’ve watched Ashutosh teaching now for twenty-three years, and in the beginning, he used to say, ‘Stoma, tomorrow I am going to bring my stick.’ In some ways he was just like the same old Ashutosh: First, we would start our class at 4:30 PM, and the dinner bell at Sadhana Mandir would ring at 7 PM, so we would finish our class when the dinner bell rang. So, we thought maybe we should start a little earlier so we can have a little time before dinner. So we started at 4 o’clock, and we went all the way to the dinner bell. Then we started at 3.30 PM, and, again, all the way to the dinner bell. And over time, especially in the last six to seven years, there is such a deepening in his teaching about this whole issue of learning hatha yoga as this process of really being able to let go, of being able to allow the natural person in you to express itself.
If you listen carefully to his language, he says, ‘Allow your breath to flow’. He doesn’t say breathe diaphragmatically. Because when you say that to people, they start to do all kinds of artificial stuff. And what we are really after is to help people recover the memory you have from being an infant of how to breathe correctly. Your body already knows how to do this. It is there in your memory, and it is a question of getting the rest of the disturbances out of the way enough for that to come forward. And when you begin to get skillful at doing that, then you naturally are also able to relax.
So, we have a whole week to play with lazy person’s yoga. It should be fun. That is the other thing. It really should be fun. It should be child’s play. As much as possible. We love as adults to make work out of it, but never forget that work is really a waste of time. Work is waste of energy. I worked as a child therapist for five or six years. Watching how efficiently they heal themselves in imaginative play and how quickly they learn things in imaginative play, it is so much more powerful than working at these things. So, learn to play with your life as much as you can. We have a wonderful opportunity to play together for a while here in a very good way; I think that helps us to come to a more natural state of relationship with each other. And I think that is the most important thing we can do during the time that we are together here.
Stoma’s book on emotional purification is titled Clearing the Path: The Yoga Way to a Clear & Pleasant Mind: Patanjali, Neuroscience, and Emotion. It is available for sale through Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust, the online bookstore of The Meditation Center, Amazon, Amazon.in, and other bookstores.