Zen Blog

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”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

A Magical Way to Work with Our Habitual Patterns

“You have Within you more love than you could ever understand.” ~Rumi

By Leo Babauta

Every day, I work with people trying to shift their habitual patterns: procrastination, avoidance, escape, reaching for comfort foods or other comforts like video games or watching videos, distraction, complaining, lashing out at others, ignoring problems, and more.

These habitual patterns show themselves whenever we’re in uncertainty — which turns out to be most of the time. So we’re in the uncertainty of our meaningful work, let’s say … and here’s our old habitual pattern.

The usual way of dealing with the pattern is harshness: I don’t like that I procrastinate, I need to do better, this is a failing of mine, it’s such a harmful pattern, I’m screwing everything up so badly.

In other words, we use the pattern in the same way we use everything else — another way to beat ourselves up. Yet more evidence that something is wrong with us. That in itself is a habitual pattern, by the way.

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Unionizing Yoga

At the start of a yoga class, the teacher often shares a common definition of the word yoga: union. Union of the body and the mind, union of the individual self with a larger consciousness.  But over the past several months, teachers from YogaWorks’ studios in New York have been working to establish a more literal union—with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. 

On September 9, the group of 100 yoga teachers asked management to recognize their union, and shortly after, filed a petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. On October 17, YogaWorks teachers will begin voting to form a union, and a winning vote will legally allow the group to begin the process of bargaining.

“Yoga happens on two levels: the individual and collective,” said YogaWorks teacher Nora Heilmann. “Our effort to unionize stemmed from our individual needs as teachers to make the profession more sustainable, and also from our collective belief that yoga needs to stay the complex and beautiful practice that it is.”

It’s no secret that, over the past several decades, yoga has exploded into a multibillion dollar industry. As of 2016, over 36 million people practice yoga in the United States. With students filling up classes, many studios have expanded. But while profits are up for owners and managements, the unionizing teachers say that unclear hiring and business practices are a serious problem within the industry.

“In the yoga community, there is a total lack of transparency, and there are no standards in terms of how yoga teachers are hired, evaluated, or paid,” said Jodie Rufty, a YogaWorks teacher and teacher trainer. “There’s also no way of regulating how a teacher gets a raise. It has long been unclear and frustrating for many teachers. Yoga has grown in popularity, but a lot of integrity has been lost.”

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Songs from the Bardo Guides Us to the Next Rebirth

What happens to us when we die? Where do we go? What do we do? And what does this tell us about who we are right now—and if we’re even really here at all? 

Laurie Anderson, the renowned American visual and performing artist, may just have the answer.

Although Buddha himself was often reluctant to address such grandiose questions, his later disciples took up the challenge. One of history’s most famous explorations of this matter comes from The Bardo Thodol, or The Tibetan Book of the Dead, as it has been known in English since the earliest translation appeared in 1927. This sacred Tibetan Buddhist text lays out detailed descriptions of the forty-nine-day journey of our consciousness from the moment of death to our next rebirth.

Now Anderson has helped recreate much of this journey in the hauntingly beautiful audio odyssey Songs from the Bardo, which pairs key sections of The Bardo Thodol with gongs, flutes, strings, and percussion.

Songs from the Bardo is a collaboration between Anderson and the Tibetan artist and composer Tenzin Choegyal, along with the composer and producer Jesse Paris Smith. Choegyal provides the occasional Tibetan chanting and traditional instruments, while the calm, clear voice of Anderson is heard reciting the English translations throughout. 

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Binge-Watching the Stories in Your Head

We are drowning in stories. Ads tell stories. Video games, movies and TV shows, too. A lot of journalism is politically-motivated fiction. And even science is story; authors convince us through compelling narratives, weaving together select findings and literature. We are storytellers. It’s who we are.

I know what it’s like to be totally wrapped up in stories. In my teens and early twenties, I was immersed in them, and to me, they were absolute, unshakeable truth. I debated aggressively with anyone who disagreed with the stories I believed in. I talked at people. I barely listened to anything they had to say, because I was certain they were wrong and I was right.

I had no idea how much I was just parroting whatever I’d heard elsewhere. I was just repeating and regurgitating things with no awareness of just how limited my perspectives were. This pattern continued until I found myself on a mountain in British Columbia on my first silent mindfulness retreat.

Recognizing the Stories We Tell Ourselves

People often think about mindfulness as a relaxation tool, but for me it’s been a vital tool in seeing how the stories in my head have been shaped by others. The more I’ve sat in silence and observed my mind over the past decade, the more I’ve noticed the incredible influence of stories. It was frustrating at first. My mind was constantly thinking, telling incessant half-baked stories about everything. When I tried to pay attention and calm them down, it was completely overwhelming.

Those first few years, I got immediately wrapped up in the desperate need to stop this from happening. I thought the whole point of meditation was to silence my thoughts, and I ended up even more frustrated. Now that I realize the futility of this pursuit, I feel a sense of nostalgia whenever I find myself guiding others who have fallen into this same trap. Stopping your mind from telling stories is like telling a cow not to ‘moo’. Stories are what define us. As Marcus Aurelius put it, “Concrete objects can pull free of the earth more easily than humans can escape humanity.”

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David Nichtern Wants to Make You Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

David Nichtern is, by most metrics, a very successful person. As a longtime practitioner in the Shambhala lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, he has been empowered as a senior teacher and has served as the director of Karme Choling Meditation Center in Vermont and the Dharmadhatu Meditation Center in Los Angeles. As a musician, he won four Emmy award, has been nominated for a Grammy twice, founded Dharma Moon and 5 Points Records, and has worked with Stevie Wonder, Jerry Garcia, Lana Del Rey, Maria Muldaur, and Paul Simon, to name a few.

In a new book, Creativity, Spirituality, and Making a Buck (Wisdom, October 8, 2019), he offers his advice from both sides of his life on how to figure out what one wants to do and how to get there. Tricycle spoke with Nichtern about the book and his conviction that we do not need to separate our spiritual pursuits and our career goals.

You titled your book Creativity, Spirituality, and Making a Buck, three topics that aren’t often talked about in the same breath. What inspired you to write a book about this?

This book is the culmination of my actual life as a practitioner, a creative, an entrepreneur, and a businessperson, and it challenges the long-accepted divide between spiritual life and the way we operate in the world, in which our livelihood and issues of money are seen as soiled. On the one hand, people will say that a yoga class should be free, and on the other hand, people have the notion that topics like ethics should be reserved for church on Sunday. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” But all of those elements exist together in people’s actual lives. The people in the spiritual communities and the secular communities are the same people.

The third piece, after spirituality and making a living, is creativity, which speaks to our individual life journeys, or what I call the life puzzle. Every person comes to a point where they need to express themselves as a unique individual. Some people might think that goes against Buddhist teachings on non-self or non-ego, but that’s a total misunderstanding of the definition of anatman (Skt., no-self). We do exist individually, but we don’t exist absolutely individually.

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