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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).

Oct 5, 2012

Free Climb

This week I was inspired by a story that my son Eli - an avid rock climber - told me about a climber who free-climbs sheer rock walls like El Capitan and does so in record time. (As someone who has a fear of heights it makes me nervous even hearing this story. And I think – “yeah, I bet he gets it over with in record time.  Also I carefully and thoroughly bit my tongue to keep myself from demanding a blood oath from my son that he would NEVER try anything like that).
It seems to me that a free-climber like that must have access to such a wellspring of stability – to be able to dial back pure animal fear.  Apparently one time this climber did not dial back the fear quickly enough. He had to cling on a ledge high above the earth for 30 minutes and breathe and wait for stability to return. And what next - after stability returned? Once there was enough stability – the natural next step was to destabilize and climb higher.  (I know – he probably had no option – but I would bet that even if he did – he would have kept climbing).
I think its a simple equation – a pure Yoga: if the stability in my life is sufficient, I will naturally and organically - like any good plant - reach out to the edge of stability - to grow - to expand. And this reach will be de-stabilizing. 
For example, it's a common for someone to be in a long-term stable marriage in which they love and feel loved, the finances are OK, and life is fairly good. Things are stable. In fact, things are stable enough for that person to begin to unearth some necessary - and difficult - and destabilizing - mental emotional material. I'm not talking about myself here - but I’ve been there. 
Right now - the way it is for me is that my life is stable enough for me to dive very deeply into my practice, my sadhana.  Sadhana is a source of infinite stability and infinite freedom (to use a phrase of my meditation teacher, Paul Muller Ortega).  Infinite stability - yes - that is what I tap into when I take my seat to meditate or when I roll out my mat or when I do my puja practice, etc.  I can seat myself in sadhana and give myself over to the embrace of gravity, of stability, of remembrance. There’s no top end – or bottom end. But / and sadhana herds my sometimes reluctant and inertia-laden little self relentlessly towards the edge of infinite freedom  - the yoked and complementary opposite of infinite stability.  No top end – or bottom end there either. 
I tend to like the concept of freedom. It’s exciting.  But the flip side of the excitement of the unknown is the destabilizing and even terrifying nature of the unknown. For example, long term meditators sometimes reach a place inwardly that is so vast and seemingly empty that they are terrified, destabilized, have to stop meditating for a while, and breathe and re-stabilize and cling to a ledge until they regain a level of stability that will allow them to free climb again. 
On any given day - my spirit has a great yearning to reach - to grow - to destabilize that which is stagnant – to be fully awake.  If the stability in my life is sufficient, I will naturally and organically - like any good plant - reach out to the edge of that stability - to grow - to expand. This reach will be de-stabilizing but it’s worth everything, to be able to reach for the Light; to have one more day to practice and work and love in a way that allows me the gift of a reach for the Light. Knowing that this destabilizing reach is worth everything makes me interested in providing my body, mind and heart with as much stability as possible so I can keep climbing, continue in sadhana. This is practical stuff: eat well; rest well; cultivate kindness and cooperation in relationships; show up for work in a way that is steady, reliable and responsible.
One way I understand the Yoga Sutras teaching of the yamas and niyamas (moral and ethical precepts) is that if I follow basic ethical guidelines, I will not have to be destabilized by the consequences of my behavior. I would much rather save up my destabilizing for my sadhana and it’s gift of allowing me to free-climb for the Light – the one that shines in the heavens, the one that shines in my heart, the one that shines in the eyes of friends, students, husband, sons, all beings. That Light.

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