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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Sep 12, 2016

What to do until election or "Jayanthi Mangala Kali"

Attention is like gold, precious and to be guarded. It is Life force (prana), a form of Love. Attention fuels the growth of yogic stamina and the building of an inner body radiance.

Because attention is so delicious and yummy, there are many things that want to feed on it and will gobble it up: distractions of all sorts; addictive patterns of behavior; neurotic cycles of thought; and so on.

Lately I've noticed in myself that a potentially huge gobbler of attention is election talk and worry. I feel this gobbler as if it were a swarm of bees, thickening the air around me. If I don't pause and place attention in my body and breath, my attention is gobbled right up by political fears and polarized opinions.

After having watched my attention get consumed a few times now, by the election year killer bees, I happened upon a new strategy for this election year. Actually, I don’t think I happened upon it, I think it happened upon me. Grace swooped in ahead of the killer bees and said: “do this now, and then keep doing it all the way to the election”. I am singing to the Mother. I am singing to Her by the name of Durga /Kali using a particular chant (mentioned at end of this article). But I could very well be singing to the great Mother by the name of Mary or many other names that She goes by. When I sing this chant I am praising as well as praying for the arrival of Her qualities in myself and in the world, qualities like beauty, kindness, generosity and forbearance. I've been singing this mantra108 times each day but I don't like to make rigid rules and even three times wholeheartedly would be fine. (“Making it” to 108 could be just another distraction). Really what I wait for is not a number but an arising in my heart center of an alive and directly felt sense of the Feminine. Once I feel Her energy moving and expanding in me, I wish it or pray it outward to both political candidates. (I have to confess I started out by praying toward my favorite candidate first and then sometimes “forgetting” to wish it to the other. But now I am upgrading my practice and wishing it towards the difficult one first, and trying not to add in the thought “well, that one needs it a LOT more than the other one :)

When I extend love and energy of my heart outward to my least favorite candidate, I pay attention to see if I lose the essence of that quality of the Mother moving inside of my heart and, if so, I go back to building it inwardly and then I extend outward again. If I need to make it easier I will extend to a beloved one first, before I take on the bigger task of presidential candidates.

I have always been very careful not to bring politics into the studio because I want Garden Street to remain open and welcoming to people of various religions and politics. (I admit I have never had a neo-Nazi show up and I don't know what I would do if it happened, but probably that will never happen. Phew). So it makes me laugh to realize after all these years of being diligently a-political in the context of Garden Street that I am now putting out a very strong political statement without actually naming either candidate.

If I can’t do this – then how in the world do I expect a political candidate to be a source of renewal of the feminine on this earth which sorely needs Her now.

I praise and pray for the Heart qualities of the Mother to expand and me and outward into the world. 

This is the chant I am using. Various tunes are available on you-tube.

Jayanti Mangala Kali Bhadra-Kali Kapalini
Durga Shiva Ksama Dhatri Svaha Svadha Namo'Stu Te

We extend reverence to the nine aspects of the divine mother.
May she ever guide and protect me.

Translation by Manorama

Mar 15, 2016


The Place in the Middle
The Gateway to the Heart

The Sanskrit work sundi refers to the space between two actions.  Some familiar sundis  are the space between breaths, the space between preparing food and eating it and even the pause just before sneezing.  Dawn and dusk are considered significant sundis in the daily cycle. And then there’s Sunday, the sundi between the weeks. A profound sundi, recognized by any woman who has given birth consciously, is “transition”, a potent quiet place between labor and birth, that is so powerful and filled with Shakti, that it feels like the eye of a storm of Grace. 
Yoga teaches that in the sundi there exists the potential for a great opening to Grace.  In the sundi, blessings rain down.  It all depends on learning to recognize the sundi and then being present in that place in the middle. 

In Yoga Asana, Pranayama and Meditation there are many sundis.  The centering and chanting at the beginning of class is a sundi between the busy world of 10,000 things, and the focused time of practice.  There is another sundi just after practicing when you consciously intend to take the fruits of the practice off the mat and into the world of “the 10,000 things”. Two of the classic and most obvious asana sundis are Tadasana and Savasana. Tadasana is a pose which honors the place between poses. Savasana can be a way to practice the Sundi between life and death (well OK - maybe just between yoga class and the rest of your day :).  Pranayama offers a wonderful awareness of sundi - the pause between breaths. And meditation sometimes takes one into a very deep sundi - a vibrating silence and space between thoughts 

Gurdjieff spoke of sundis (although he didn’t use that word) when he said that at two points in an octave you either go forward or backward; there is a shift in direction.  You can’t stay the same.  Because the flow is blocked and requires more energy to bridge the gap, you need a push or you will go backwards.
In other words, when we hit a gap, a sundi, if we don’t have enough energy, we don’t jump the gap and move forward.  We have to make a sort of leap and this is always precipitated by some sort of shock although we may not always label it that way and it may be only a mild shock if it is only a mild sundi.  Think, for example, of the mild shock it takes to leap the gap between dog pose and kicking up into handstand. 

Yoga teaches us exactly what to do in that gap.  We must become spacious inwardly, open to grace.  Yoga trains us to learn, gradually but inevitably, to draw inward and expand when we find ourseves in a sundi.  This is in fact the practice of pratyhara.  We draw our senses inward and expand our inner body and heart from the inside out.  One of my favorite images for understanding how to practice pratyhara in the sundi is the tortoise.  I like to imagine that I can withdraw all my senses like the tortoise withdraws her 4 legs, tail and head, into a spacious light filled room in my heart.  And from there I can open to grace and leap the gap. 

One other thing that often helps us leap the gap is purposeful or intentional use of sound.  Imagine hovering at the door of a plane, waiting to sky-dive, and the shout of “GO!” is what makes you leap.  Or, in a quieter way, imagine someone saying “yes, yes, keep going” as a child attempts a difficult new skill.  In Yoga, chanting “OM” or saying “Namaste” at the end of class has been what has taken many people across the gap between “just a work-out” and “the practice of Yoga”.

Whether on the mat or off the mat, leaping the gap is how we evolve and transform.  On the mat, we learn to recognize the quality of a sundi, pause to draw into our heart and then, moving from the expansiveness we find there, we learn to leap.  The practice on the mat helps in another way also. It builds in us, gradually and over time, a reserve of energy.  When you reach a point where you must either go forward or backward, where you can’t stay the same, you will have the reserve of energy and a practice of courage to bridge the gap, to leap across.
Awareness, cultivated by practice, generates a current or charge of Prana which can help to bridge the gap. Think of a synapse and the spark that leaps across the gap. Practice is the key: we do not rise to a challenge (or a leap) but instead are enabled to leap by the ground that is cultivated by our practice. Steady practice over a long period of time, with devotion, will assure that when the sundis arise, you will be able to see the opportunity and leap the gap.