Monday. Finished a 3-day workshop at The Copper Beach Institute on Kundalini Yoga. To say I’m overwhelmed with everything I have been learning in the last year is a understatement. I feel in a constant state of behind. Instead of feeling like I am making headway along my spiritual path I am simply more aware of how long and twisting that path is. Drumming, Guitar, Yoga, Dharma, Masters Swimming, the two book groups I am in — I am in a constant state of over-learning. I would LOVE to be an over-achiever because that would mean I actually master something, I’m just an over-learner — everything is fascinating to me and merits further study. I blame my mother for this affliction because she had the same one. Throughout my life I always remember my mother constantly trying new things. This week we are taking up paddle tennis, the next week we were canoeing, then she was painting, tennis, swimming, golfing and the book group she founded is still going on without her now 50 years! Classes, letcures, trips — It was non-stop my entire childhood. I would like to say all of this knowledge-hopping is rewarding but really I want to find a place to settle down and focus on one thing. I think I have found a path but it has not been without struggle.
Once you open a gate into a new world, many roads appear. My dharma group found me a year ago because I was meditating online with an app called Insight Meditation Timer (cool app, check it out) that lets you know who is meditating near you and I had just relocated to CT. Since then they have introduced me to a vast world of Dharma study on the east coast. At first I was just thrilled to be closer to Kripalu. Now to find the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and Insight Meditation Society is only an hour fifteen north of here was an added joy. I can’t say enough about my Dharma Sisters. They are my teachers. Though they consider themselves merely students, I am so in awe of how much farther down the path they are than I am. I learn so much from them and I learn how much I don’t know.
Then three months ago The Copper Beach Institute opened up twenty minutes from my house. My house is in a kind of spiritual vortex between Omega, Kripalu, IMS, Copper Beach and I haven’t even been to the one in Cambridge which is supposed to be great as well. But each time I go to a seminar, workshop or study group, I find myself cramming to read up on whatever subject du jour and I’m feeling overwhelmed and overloaded. I don’t know if it is normal to have recent my youbtube videos include java programming scripts, perfecting your backstroke technique and Kundalini Mantra Meditation. Oh and the first Monday in December I start training indoors with a cycling team two days a week so I’ll be back to all things with wheels — dharma and cycling. And I have the marathon in March so I have a great new app for training (I’ll post about that next week).
What made me write this post today was trying to figure out if Kundalini Yoga is really even for me. Backup to two weeks ago to when I found myself in a basement of some stranger’s house (I know that sounds weird but I was with friends.) The word got around to our Dharma study group that a Chan Zen monk, Chang Wen Fash (the director of Dharma Drum Retreat Center in New York State) was going to be giving a talk at a private home in West Hartford and our little Dharma group was invited to come. We drove to a condominium complex that looked like a million others and were lead down to a basement that had been converted to the a beautiful meditation room. Apparently this is where a large group of West Hartford Zen Buddhists all meet. They are all Chinese and English is definitely their second language. The monk who was coming to give the Dharma talk was American but fluent in Chinese. The dharma talk was in English (apparently the group’s time keeper is American so everything is conducted in English for him).
The room was spare but beautiful. It easily fit twenty of us and they had meditation cushions and chairs for everyone. Very simple altar with a Buddha statue and a lotus flower — gorgeous in its simplicity and made me immediately vow to go home and throw out more junk.
We settled in to meditate and the monk had to tell us that we are to mediate facing the wall. I am used to either facing one another or all facing toward the altar/shrine. But I guess in this tradition you face the wall not the others. So we meditated for about half an hour with our faces right in front of the bare walls. Nothing that could distract you. Very interesting. Then we stood up and the monk led us through some stretches that were really great . Very Qi Gong like exercises (oh yeah, remember when I was learning Qi Gong in Bryant Park? Just another thing I got pretty good at but never fully mastered). I really enjoyed them. Then we settled in for the Dharma talk (facing the monk). He proceeded to give his talk on the five skandhas periodically asking questions of the group testing their knowledge. I was impressed with the knowledge everyone in the room had on the subject matter. One of the people told me some of them had been studying together for 18 years!! (Several of the woman looked so young but they told me they had children in college!) We had a wonderful evening ending with tea. I left inspired to study even harder and to clear my house out of junk (that will be a life-long project I am sure).
Flash forward two weeks later to my intro to Kundalini Yoga weekend at Copper Beach. Kundalini (which a word for the energy source at the base of your spine) yoga is an intensive practice. People don’t do Kundalini Yoga half-heartedly. It’s not your Tuesday night Vinyassa flow class at the gym. You also don’t learn it in a weekend. It’s a serious study of thousands of kryias. A kryia is a sequence of movements and mantras. It’s all about moving the kundalini energy through your chakras, up and down your spine and some energy meridians that I can’t remember the names of already. Moving this energy around can promote mental, physical and spiritual healing. So there is a kryia for just about everything from depression to procrastination (okay, maybe I will be keeping my notes on that one). There are also mantras (chants) and mudras (hand positions) that go along with the poses that make up each kryia. Everything is done in a certain order that has been developed over centuries. That was definitely is a very weak, weak summary of Kundalini yoga. But the one thing I walked away from is that people who study Kundalini yoga really study Kundalini yoga. It is something that takes a lifetime to understand and probably never master.
Our instructor for the weekend was Hari Kirin who is one of the greats. I’m not aura expert to say the least but let me tell you that the moment she sat down and started to speak, I felt her spirit lift the energy in room. And then when she laughed I knew she was the real deal. I have this personal theory that all the great teachers laugh a lot. They find humor everywhere. When I come across some spiritual leader who is all serious and never cracks a smile, I think why would I want to study with that person? The Dali Llama cracks himself up — he’s always laughing at himself. Pema Chodron is always laughing at herself and the ironies of life. Even that Shaman I went to study with at Kripalu, Brant Secundo, the real deal — very serious but able to laugh a lot. And by the way, even that Chan Zen Monk was smiled and laughed a bit.
I’m not sure if I will stay with Kundalini Yoga. I don’t want to disrespect it by doing it half-assed. I do think there are parts of it that are very beautiful and I will keep some of the chanting and possibly one or two kyrias. We are supposed to do a 40 day challenge starting today of one kyria for 40 days. I picked a very short one (3 minutes). I figure I could do that. After that we will see. I don’t think I will be wearing a white turban anytime soon. I am going to try to listen to my inner guru and follow the path that feels right.
So whether it is my masters swimming, my guitar, my yoga, my meditation my dharma studies there is only one thing I am sure of, it is about the daily practice. You can’t just sum anything in a blog post or a wikipedia entry. You discover what it is really about by doing it and practicing. You find the joy in the actually doing the stroke, the posture, the mantra. Trying to describe it will never be the same as experiencing it. I may not get to Carnegie Hall and I may not be perfect but I hope I find the pieces that help me fill out my personal puzzle. As they say, take what you need and leave the rest.
“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.” Rumi