Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Simple Steps: A New Years Gift to You: #40 The Lotus Flower

This post is the final installment in our 40 Simple Steps Series.  I hope you've enjoyed them!  I know you can find value here too, for the simplest step of all is the knowledge that within these words you are meeting and greeting your own true self.

In the East, the lotus flower is viewed as a symbol of spiritual unfoldment.

The lotus has its roots in earthly mud, but as it grows upward in aspiration toward the light, its petals open out in a beautiful flower.

This unfolding is the goal of reaching toward the eighth limb of yoga, Samadhi.

The Indian Lotus flower symbolizes divinity, fertility, wealth, knowledge and enlightenment.
It is associated with the goddess of wealth, Maha Lakshmi, who brings prosperity, purity and generosity.
She sits on a fully blossomed lotus flower, symbolizing purity, beauty and everything that is good.

Om Mani Padme Hum, meaning, "Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus" is the sacred mantra of the Tibetans. 

The meaning behind the lotus flower's use is beautifully articulated in the following poem by Swami Kriyananda, a teacher I studied with as a result of my introduction to the work of his teacher, Swami Paramahansa Yogananda in his book Autobiography of a Yogi.

May you breathe in peace as you read...

Todays Simple Step

Contemplating the Lotus Flower

"We were talking - about the space between us all - 
and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion 
never glimpsing the truth.

Then it's far too late when they pass away.

We were talking - about the love we all could share when we find it -

to try our best to hold it there - 
with our love

With our love we could save the world - if they only knew.

Try to realize it's all within yourself - no-one else can make you change

And to see you're really only very small

And life flows on within you and without you.

We were talking - about the love that's gone so cold

And the people who gain the world and lose their soul.

They don't know, they can't see - 
are you one of them?

When you've seen beyond yourself

Then you may find peace of mind is waiting there

And the time will come when you see we are all one

And life flows on within you and without you."
Swami Kriyananda

May you find a way to keep walking the path of these 40 Simple Steps.

May they lead you to your destination "home" and bring you to your happiness.

As you leave this year behind - and embrace all that is present before you -  the spirit in me salutes the spirit in you!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Simple Steps: #39 The Door is Open

The eight linbs of yoga indicate a logical method that leads to the attainment of physical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health.

Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to become a reality.  That reality leads to joy and understanding, the result of the oneness we experience in the state of samadhi.

Todays Simple Step

What does it look like for you to walk through the door that is opening to the next step in your soul growth?

We all have a new door - a longer stretch - a deeper committment to our own truth...

No one else can really tell you what that looks like...

All the advice in the world is nothing compared to the innate wisdom you already have inside yourself.

Stop waiting for someone or something to tell you...

Take a moment now to allow yourself to know - without a doubt -
what it is that is waiting for you to say "I accept!"

In this way you will be guided, supported and attractive to the opportunities that already exist to help you find your way. In the words of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, the German poet,

"Once one is committed, and not until then, will all manner and form of opportunity arise which would not have been there otherwise."
May you have many blessings along the way.

Till next time,

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Simple Steps: #38 Follow the Path

No one ever said the achievement of samadhi is easy.  In fact it is usually considered a difficult task.

The Yoga Sutra suggests the practice of asana and pranayama as a preparation for dharana, because these influence mental activities and create space in the crowded schedule of the mind.

Once dharana has occurred, dhyana and samadhi can follow.

Todays Simple Step

Take a few minutes today to follow the "yellow brick road" of links I have highlighted in the description above. 
Spend just these few minutes seeing for yourself how the steps move you from one state of mind to another.  
Once you have the ability to change your state of mind you have every possibility to change your state of being!

May you find the peace you seek in the process.

Till next time...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Simple Steps: #37 Union with the Divine

Samadhi refers to union, or true yoga.

There is an ending to the separation that is created by the "I" and "mine" of our illusory perceptions of reality.

The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation.

The mind and intellect have stopped, and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy.

Todays Simple Step
Suppose you met a Divine guide on your journey around town today.  Suppose you were tapped on the shoulder while waiting in line.

 Would it be meaningful to you if the face of that Divine presence just lit up from within while looking at you?   Would you even be able to stand the radiance of love that would eminate from a presence so filled with the simple joy of seeing you that tears of recognition would stream from their eyes and wet their glowing smile?

Would you ... could you... see beyond the illusion of your own frail humanity to see what they see?

Give it a try.  You are so beautiful.

It is your ability to receive the truth of it that will bring you to the experience of Samadhi.

Till next time,

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Simple Steps: #36 Samadhi

In our 40 Simple Step Series, we have reached the final step in the eight-fold path of yoga.

It is the attainment of Samadhi.

Samadhi means "to bring together, to merge."

In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake.

In this state one goes beyond consciousness.

During samadhi we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness. The conscious mind drops back into the unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged.

Todays Simple Step

We often think that the attainment of such a state is only found in a haze of blissful unawareness.
That is the furthest thing from the truth.

Samadhi IS the attainment of consciousness in an endless observation of itself.

Just for today, practice NAMASTE..."The spirit in me sees - and salutes! - the spirit in you."

See it - Be it!  This is the essence of the golden rule.

May all that you are be a blessing to you and to others.

Till next time,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Simple Steps: #35 Freedom

Todays Simple Step

A 3-Minute Meditation on Freedom...
 Stop whatever else you are doing. 
Stop fidgiting - hurrying - trying to fit this in.
This is special time - a sacred time. 
Offer it to yourself.

Take in a
Exhale.  Ahhhhhhhh.....

Take another breath  - even slower than the one before. 
Exhale. Ahhhhhhh....

Now once more - and keep all your attention on it - - a no nonsense, belly expanding breath...

pause...and exhale.  Ahhhh....

Hold steady now and notice - what did you just free yourself from?  What was pressing you and shaping you and bearing on you as a "must have" or "must do" that went away for just this one moment?

The nature of freedom is not that you do nothing - the nature of freedom is that you have tha ability to choose what you do.

Yes - choose.

Choose to take on your day.  Choose to act in the clearest most beneficial way you can.  Choose your actions - your promises - your responsibilities - your job - your relationships. 

They need not get easier...they need not change! 

YOU must simply choose them.

The freedom you achieve is the answer to the peace you seek.  Notice how different you feel by simply accepting the power of choice.

You can always choose again if you don't like what you see. 

Perhaps that is the simple step for another day.

Till next time,

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Simple Steps: #34 Illusion

For the yogi, there is a state of freedom that exists above all else.

It can be reached by constant inquiry into the nature of things.

Meditation becomes our tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that cloud the mind.

Todays Simple Step

Give yourself 10 minutes to sit without distraction and simply observe the quiet place inside your mind.

Every time a thought arrives and interrupts your quiet space, just recognize it ("there's a thought") and let it go.
No energy. No judgment. Just going away...

Notice the feeling of peace that accompanies the quiet once you find it again.
Here is your place of power, here is your place of truth, and this is your simple step...your mind will wander, and you will notice new thoughts arriving.  Your journey is to let go over and over again.  The peace is impermanent but you will find it - simply - again and again and again.

Till next time....

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Simple Steps: #33 Confusion

Through the practice of yoga, as we fine tune our concentration and observe our perceptions we become more aware of the nature of reality, and can perceive that the world is unreal as we know it.

The Mystic advises:

"The only reality is the universal Self, or God, which is veiled by Maya - the power of illusion.

As the veils are lifted, the mind becomes clearer.

Unhappiness and fear
- even the fear of death -

So how are we to arrive at this unbelievable place of serenity and peace??

Only by practicing the skills and techniques we know can get us there - one simple step at a time.

You already have 32 steps that have gone before this one...they all count toward an accumulated effect. Return to previous posts, review - retrieve whatever you need to - but don't get off the train!

Perseverance is the necessary condition to any successful endeavor.

Todays Simple Step

You are only confused when you have too much information going in too many directions and no help but yourself to figure it out.

Just for today surrender.

That's right - surrender.

Let go.

Give in to the flow of grace that surrounds you.
          Take a deep breath and once empty, ask for clarity.

That's right! Ask!

Ask for help, support, assistance and the best outcome for all concerned.

Now listen quietly for a state of peace inside of you ... and let it be so.

This is todays simple step.

Till next time...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Simple Steps: #32 Consciousness Unified

During the practice of meditation, one observes insights and recognizes distinctions between objects as they are and subtle layers of perception.

We learn to differentiate between the mind that perceives and the means of perception...

We recognize the difference between words and their meanings...and the feeling of peaceful knowing is the basis of our actions.

Todays Simple Step

Just for today, be a fly on the wall observing your own actions.

Notice you watching yourself.

Observe yourself in the action of thinking.

Notice you watching yourself.

Now give the YOU who is the observer of yourself a few moments of time to be recognized, known, felt and seen.

This you is the meditator - the other is the performer.

When the two become one, and the actions you take are the result of the quiet observer stepping forward in truth rather than reactive self responding to stimulii, then the result of meditation is achieved.

You are truly present.

What a wonderful gift!

This is todays simple step.

Till next time,

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Simple Steps: #31 The Meaning of Dhyana

Dhyana is the seventh limb of yoga and it means "to worship."

It is perfect contemplation and involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it.

The concept holds that when one focuses their mind on concentration of an object, the mind is transformed into the shape of the object.

For the practitioner of dhyana, when one focuses on the divine, they become more reflective of the divine, and as a result they know their own true nature.

Todays Simple Step

Imagine today that you are the Budda - the sage - the wise one.

How do you express the divine within yourself?

How do you keep yourself worthy of delivering the message you carry?

Practice being true to your message today.

This is your simple step.

Till next time...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Simple Steps: #30 Inner Awareness

This is the fifth example on the limb of yoga called dharana or concentration.

You are moving into the practice of meditation, which sits firmly on the bedrock of your work on focused inner awareness, so this is your readiness step.

Todays Simple Step
Center yourself in a quiet place with a journal or notepad.

Breathe deep and adjust your position so you feel relaxed and aligned.

Give yourself a few minutes to thoroughly answer the question "Who Am I?"

Write it down for yourself.

This is today's simple step.

Till next time,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Simple Steps: #29 Perception

The objective of the sixth limb of yoga called dharana is to achieve the mental state where the mind, intellect and ego are all restrained, and all the faculties are offered to the Divine for creative use and in service.

Once the mind is steadied through the practice, there there is no feeling of "I" and "mine."

Todays Simple Step

Devote all of your actions to your Higher Power

No action is too large or too small to be received as a blessing.

You are the instrument today.

This is your simple step.

Till next time...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Simple Steps: #28 Contemplation

"When the body has been tempered by asanas,
when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama,
when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara,
the seeker reaches the sixth stage (limb) of yoga, dharana."

B.K.S. Iyengar

As we move through this series of posts exploring practical applications for the eight limbs of yoga, we can see that each step interconnects with the other.

The objective in the practice of dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its attention upon some apparently stable entity.

The particular object selected has little to do with the general purpose...the objective is to stop the mind from wandering through memories, dreams, or reflective thought by deliberately holding it single-mindedly upon a static object.

Have you ever wondered - or laughed - at the stereotypical new age character who is depicted as a hippy-dippy airhead doing nothing more then "staring at his navel?"

Get ready to appreciate what he's actually up to...

Todays Simple Step

Choose a simple object nearby - it can indeed be your navel, or your hand, a flower, a stone, a piece of fabric...whatever catches your fancy.

As always, set aside a few minutes to concentrate, slow down and breathe.

Soften your focus and simply observe the object of your choice.

Notice absolutely everything about it that you can.

Most importantly, notice every time you are thinking of something more "interesting" and just let it go, returning again to your chosen object.

Acknowledge it's beauty, it's usefulness and it's part in Creation.

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven." Ecclesiastes3:1

Enjoy the time you spend here - it is a sacred acknowledgment of your connection without attachment of the World of which you are a part...
This is your simple step.

Till next time,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Simple Steps: #27 Focus!

In the eight limbs of yoga, dharana means "immovable concentration of the mind."

The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. Here the seeker is concentrated wholly on a single point, or on a task in which he is completely engrossed.

The mind has to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete absorption.

Todays Simple Step

Candle Concentration is a classic training for the yogi.

You need to sit in a quiet place where you have a few minutes and light a candle.

Breathe deeply, and clear your mind.


Now soften your gaze and gently observe the flame...absorb yourself in it...concentrate on it's dance...

When you feel your mind is still and your concentration has peaked, close your eyes and hold the picture of the candle flame steady in your mind's eye.

Do your very best to keep the memory sharp and intact with no interruptions.

Keep breathing and repeat.

This exercise is a simple step that will improve your ability to hold your focus.

Tuill next time...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Simple Steps: #26 Concentration

The limb of yoga that demands discipline of the mind is dharana - concentration!

Too many scattered thoughts can all begin to feel the same. We get overwhelmed and then nothing makes any sense.

With dharana we create conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction, instead of going out in many directions.

Deep contemplation and reflection can create the right support to help us develop the ability to focus on the point we have chosen, and make it more intense.

Once the mind is able to focus efficiently, and not until then, can we unleash the great potential that lies within for inner healing.

What power lies within...develop this gift and it is yours.

Todays Simple Step

Take a few minutes to simply notice the thoughts and conversations running through your mind.

Slow down and observe.

Notice the nature of your scattered thinking.

See if you can take just one thread out of the many and keep your attention on that.


A slow breath will slow down the perception of time.

Just for today return again and again to the observation of your thoughts and make an effort to take them on one at a time.

I'll give you more techniques in the posts to follow.

For today, this is your simple step.

Till next time,

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Simple Steps: #25 Pratyahara in Relationship

As the limbs of yoga explore all aspects of mankind's relationship with himself and others, we see that sense control is the limb that invites us to withdraw our senses from attachment to external objects so that we may constantly return to the path of self realization and internal peace.

This objective is never more difficult than in relationship with a significant other, but it does most profoundly apply.

Todays Simple Step

Allow that your loved ones are not your property!

Allow that your lover is fiercely independent and must walk his/her own talk rather than be spoken for by you.

Allow that what loved ones do is their own choice, and you can guide but not force as you respect free will for all.

Allow that the most profound work you can do is on yourself, and release your attachment to fixing someone else.

Till next time,

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Simple Steps: #24 The Pratyahara of Shopping

We go to the mall. We shop online. We fill our basket. We've gotta have it.

It pleases us... and then it plagues us.

Pratyahara or sense control brings us back the truth that everything is temporal - and temporary.

What is real and valuable cannot be bought, and the next new thing will not guarantee lasting comfort.

Todays Simple Step

Take a walk through a store with no intention to buy.

Appreciate beauty without having to own it.

The World is yours - trees and flowers and gardens surround you.

You do not "need" to have more.

Practice having without owning today.

Till next time,

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Simple Steps: #23 Raisin Consciousness Through Tasting

When we practice pratyahara, or control of the senses, we will experience phenomena that might seem contradictory.

Rather than becoming dull and lifeless, with practice the senses become extraordinarily sharp.

This, of course, adds to our authentic enjoyment and appreciation of the interactions of our body-mind-spirit with all of our surroundings.

In short, the relationship we have with sense objects becomes more enjoyable, not less.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the process of human unhappiness and uneasiness and relates it to our influence by outside events and our corresponding effort to suppress unwanted sensations while heightening others. This is a no-win situation.

When people seek out yoga, hoping to find the inner peace that seems so elusive, they often find it was theirs all along. (Ruby slippers anyone?)

In a sense, yoga is nothing more than a system which enables us to stop and look at the processes of our own minds; only in this way can we understand the nature of happiness and unhappiness, and thus transcend them both.

Todays Simple Step
As I look to the Yo-Ki-Bics of sense control (Yoking body/mind/spirit - expressing innate Ki energy - into effective Bites of action) I remember this story...

I once went on retreat with a Buddhist monk who did a process with us called "Raisin' Consciousness."

It involved a deep meditation on appreciating the journey of a small handful of raisins from their initial seed stage to bursting on our tastebuds. This guided meditation seemed to take for-ever !

All the while we simply listened and contemplated the raisins in the palm of our hands.

Rich and varied, our guide took us through the sunny orchards into the harvesting, the processing, the production, the box, the crate, the buying and the market, the truck and the driver... and finally to me and my own shelf in the kitchen.

We stopped along the way to appreciate the life, work, time and sacrifice of every single person who greeted some portion of the tiny raisins journey.

Then we were invited to slowly and silently eat the raisins one by one - knowing - feeling - and relating with gratitude to all aspects of their glorious journey.

You can bet these were just about the best tasting raisins anyone in the group had ever had.

PS - In entirty it took us a full hour to swirl six raisins around our mouths, hearts and minds.

It was worth every moment.

I invite you to do the same with something lucious and alive with flavor.

This is your simple step.

Till next time...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Simple Steps: #22 Sense Control

In observing how the eight limbs of yoga interact and build upon each other, pratyahara, or sense control, occurs almost automatically when we meditate because we become absorbed in the object of meditation.

Precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow; it is not happening the other way around.

Author Oriah Mountain Dreamer offers us the following opportunity in her book The Invitation:

"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.

I want to know what you ache for,

and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me who you know

or how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me

and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.

I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself...

and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments."

To me, this is the essence of pratyahara, the limb of yoga highlighting sense control.

Todays Simple Step

Notice your relationship to sound distractions.

Is there an area of your life where you need to close the door, lower the radio, turn off the TV?

Do you always need to be surrounded with chatter, people, events, happenings?

If so, can you agree, just for today, to enjoy the sounds of silence?

This is today's simple step.

Till next time...


Monday, October 26, 2009

Simple Steps: #21 Sense Attachment

Pratyahara is the next limb of yoga that we will address. Like taming a wild horse, pratyahara is the process that invites us to relinquish our untamed attachment to sense objects and mine the gold of the soul.

Control of the senses means that our senses stop living off things that stimulate and no longer depend on these stimulants as distractions on the road to self-realization and the achievement of peace.

Attachment to the senses means that under normal circumstances the senses become our masters rather than being our servants.

The senses - once attached to the objects of our desire - entice us to develop cravings for all sorts of things.

In pratyahara the opposite occurs: when we have to eat, we eat, not because we have a craving for food but because we have an appreciation of nourishment.

Todays Simple Step

Today ask for honesty from yourself so that you might gain your freedom from your own creations.

What are your particular stimulants?

List them.

What are you attached to seeing - hearing - tasting - touching - breathing that now owns you rather than you freely engaging with it?

Today is your day for accessing what internal house cleaning must be done for you to truly obtain your freedom.

Can you let go just for today?

Choose at least one thing and commit to cutting the cord of attachment.

This is your simple step.

Till next time...

Photo credit: Steamboat Horse by Bob Alba

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Simple Steps; #20 Alternate Nostril Breath

Pranayama invites balance.

Our right nostril is energetically associated with our body's heating energy, symbolized by the "Sun" and the syllable HA.

Our left nostril with our body's cooling energy, symbolized by the "Moon" and the syllable THA.

For the average person these energies are typically in conflict, which leads to disquiet and disease. The goal of traditional Hatha Yoga is to integrate and harmonize HA and THA for happiness and health.

The purpose of alternate-nostril breath is to create balance by "warming" a "cool" body-mind and vice versa.

Todays Simple Step

Sit upright in a comfortable position and slow your thoughts and your breath pattern. Relax...

Using the middle finger and thumb of your preferred hand, block your left nostril lightly and inhale through your right.

Pause gently...

Close the right nostril and exhale through the left.

Pause gently...

Reverse the instructions and inhale through your left nostril...pause... exhale through your right...pause.

Continue for 1 to 5 minutes.

Affirm your ability to balance yourself, living healthy and well.

This is your simple step.

Till next time...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Simple Steps: #19 Breath of Fire!

The limb of yoga called Pranayama is the measuring, control and directing of the breath, and breath of fire is one of the most powerful techniques in the arsenal of purification.

Since the practice produces the actual physical sensation of heat (called tapas or the inner fire of purification,) as the yogi follows the proper rhythmic patterns of breathing he/she will strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system, and reduce cravings.

The mind is then set free to become a proper vehicle for concentration and meditation.

Check out the benefits of this breath skill that includes:

  • Cleanses the sinuses and lungs
  • Keeps the lungs supple
  • Strengthens the diaphragm
  • Develops belly muscles
  • Stimulates the brain! (We could all use that)

I have adapted the general technique as follows, but if you feel unfamiliar with it you can refer to Yoga Journal for more information.

Kapalabhati, or fire breathing consists of alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Exhales are generated by powerful contractions of the lower belly (between the pubis and navel), which push air out of the lungs. Inhales are responses to the release of this contraction, which sucks air back into the lungs.

Fire breath is done through the NOSE!

Focus on your lower belly. Many beginners aren't able to isolate and contract this area. If needed, cup one hand lightly in the other and press them gently against your lower belly.

Now quickly contract your lower belly, pushing a burst of air out of your lungs. Then quickly release the contraction, so the belly "rebounds" to suck air into your lungs. Pace yourself slowly at first. Repeat eight to 10 times at about one exhale-inhale cycle every second or two.

As you become more adept at contracting/releasing your lower belly, you can increase your pace to about two exhale-inhale cycles every second. Imagine the exhale sweeping out or "brightening" the inner lining of your skull.

Do 25 to 30 cycles at first. Gradually increase the number of cycles you do each practice to 100 or more. Stop if you feel dizzy.

Todays Simple Step

Like me, I hope you fall in love with this breath!

I have found it to be strengthening, centering and powerful.

Practice, practice, practice...

and ask yourself...

What do you do with your fire?

How do you need to manage it?

What gets - and keeps - you inspired?

What energizes you - and does it have genuine health benefits??

Just for today, see if you can call on breath of fire to energize your day - and substitute one minute of breath of fire for your "less than optimal" habits and routines.

This is today's simple step.

Till next time...


Photo credit: GCA "Touching the Sun" by Bob Alba