WHAT DO WE DO … AND WHY?
Perhaps if I told you the story of our trip to Pangong Lake … within it lie the answers to who we are, why we do what we do and … what we are doing ….
In September 2017, Larry and I traveled to Leh, Ladakh, a remote area in Kashmir – high up in the mountains of the Himalayas to attend a month long, intensive, kundalini yoga retreat with Yogi Amandeep.
The retreat was aptly named “The Making of a Yogi”.
Midway through the retreat Yogi Amandeep took us on an incredible 8 hour journey to Pangong Lake for the week-end.
The journey to Pangong Lake was dramatic, thrilling and terrifying … We rode for hours on a frighteningly narrow, loose gravel, pot holed road without a guardrail, without seat belts, climbing steadily upward to reach 18380 feet at the top of the Himalayan mountain pass before descending to the lake which is at 14,270 ft. It was a real life roller coaster ride!
As I watched loose gravel and dust being kicked up by the tires, to go tumbling over edge into the abyss below and felt the air becoming thinner and more difficult to breath I realized a growing panic … my mind and heart racing … “I can’t breathe! We are going to crash and die! These roads are insane!”
And then, in a moment, with sudden clarity I realized that NOW is the time to put the methods of meditation we have been practicing to the test … They say what you learn on the mat/cushion is for when you leave your mat/cushion and live your life!
I asked myself : “Am I able to be with the breath as it is, in this moment; allowing a calm mind to arise; a mind that simply watches and notices the thin air … the difficulty breathing … without elaborating and engaging the neurotic thoughts of fear and uncertainty? “
I asked myself: “What if I could instead, focus on thoughts that allow for a softening and opening?”
As I asked these questions, I turned my mind to my mantra and my visualization of Tara … and settled into a neutral mind of observing “what is”… without labeling it as being one way or another. Up to this point I was labeling disaster … I was saying to myself “thin air means I cannot breath … which means I am going to die! I am too high … I cannot manage this altitude”
As I turned my mind away from fixating on the discomfort and allowed myself to simply witness without labeling, and gave my mind something else to anchor into, (mantra and visualization) my breathing became naturally easier… not because the air had changed, but because I had changed my perception. I simply noticed … “breathing” … “inhaling” … “exhaling”
However, once my breathing became a non-issue my mind went to the next thing … and I realized, free from the worry of breathing I was now consumed with fear of the treacherous road!! This was going to be a very long trip!!
Again … I noticed the pattern arise … my mind labeling every bump that inches the car to the edge as the bump that will bring death and destruction … again I asked myself “Can I allow the stream of thoughts about the dangerous winding road and curves that turn into blind spots … the cliff we are skirting just inches from falling over … noticing the gripping of the mind in fear, by the white knuckles and clenched fists of the person seated in front of me … my own stream of thoughts screaming death and doom … Could I, in this moment of adrenaline and fear – could I choose to be alive with adrenaline, acutely present to everything else around me …AND could I focus on the magnificent blue sky … the incredible vistas from this stunning height … and find a way to be at ease with “what is” and focus my attention on something beautiful?”
As i relaxed more deeply with “what is”, without giving it meaning, I found the calm center and an enormous relief. I was captivated by the majestic height of the mountains all around us …I focused on the unusual rich colors of aquamarine greens, light shades of pale blue and and deeper blues and shades of pink and purples of the the rocks in the endless wall of mountain to the one side … and the vast, open and empty valley below … I held on to the sweetness of my mantra, felt the coolness of my mala beads rolling over my fingers… and I found a way to be at ease with what is.
I noticed that the person in the passenger seat who had reached for her sleeping pills early on into the trip, (said she knew the nightmare of these roads and she came well prepared! ) She was now blissfully asleep … her head lolled and jostled about with the rocking of the car over potholes. I smiled … That is one way to deal with this trip up the mountains I thought …. I could fall asleep to it all … If I had a bottle of antihistamine … or a Valium right now … would I? It would be totally justified under these circumstances I thought to myself!
I laughed at my thought pattern … I don’t have sleeping pills … so I can’t … I smiled again … and no, I would not take them … and why not? Well, I would miss the beautiful mountains … they are beautiful… stunningly beautiful … I may never see them again!
We cannot always control what is happening outside us, but through these ancients wisdom teachings and with practice … we can be the peace within.
“The mind becomes a monster when it is your master. The mind becomes an angel when it is your servant” -Yogi Bhajan.
I felt I traveled as deeply inward, into the depths of stillness and beauty … than I had ever done before … as we were travelling up the mountain.
When we arrived at Pangong Lake I stood with Larry by the river … one of the students asked to take our picture … in that moment I recognized the power of the practice, the method of meditation “off the cushion”. I was alive … breathing … I had not died …
I was able to experience the power of the practice to restore ease and I could be at peace with that is, and it was amazing!
Our intention, as we come to our practice of meditation, is to be completely liberated from the cycle of suffering – and in our tradition of Mahayana, we strive to be of benefit to all beings. Our intention is to cultivate wisdom and compassion and awaken to our true essence nature. The methods of practice are applied towards that unfolding, and … we begin where we are … with what life is in this moment … and find the practices and methods of awakening are also tools to navigate our life in this moment … with this breath.
And so … in a nut shell, that is who we are, that is what we do, and we love to share the practices that move us, are meaningful, brought about a turning at the deep seat of consciousness and hold the power for transformation.
We offer teachings we have learned not only from wisdom teachings in beautifully written scriptures, texts and books, but also what we have learned studying at the feet of living masters and our years of practice, and most importantly, our personal experience putting the teachings into living practice day to day, moment by moment.
Our love for the spiritual journey, the practices we learn from and our love to share them, is who we are.
In returning home we can hardly wait to share what we have learned … that is what we do.
We find great joy in growing together as we continue to explore these ancient teachings and methods of navigating life and exploring who we are as intelligent human beings with a great capacity to learn, to grow, to change what might be causing suffering and find ways to liberate ourselves … It is our mission to deepen our experience with continued practice so necessary for the wisdom to ripen. We would love for you to join us in exploring the many ways of navigating life that we have learned and continue to learn … that we may be more skillful, especially in times of need, when faced with the blind spots and the twisting, turning moments that terrify.