My mother has an ottoman whose cushion can be removed to reveal a box for storage. Under the cushion is a thin plank of wood, so that the cushion remains stable should anyone sit on the ottoman. A couple of weeks ago, unbeknownst to any of us, the plank had been left off; nonetheless, the cushion rested atop the piece. My sister lowered herself to sit on the cushion… and promptly fell completely into the box. Her legs from knees down dangled over one end; her armpits hooked over the sides; and at the far end, her stunned face emerged from the depths of the box.
My mother immediately erupted into uproarious laughter. Me? I clamped my eyes shut, and my hands flew to cover my face. I still do not know why I did that: I am not one to avoid sudden shock; in fact, I seem to be more calm in the face of emergencies than in the face of daily disturbances.
But the incident and my reaction stuck with me, and I found myself thinking back to a small, bronze figurine that my brother, sister, and I had given to our parents when we were young. The Three Monkeys in the statuette portrayed the proverbial, “See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.” Part of the fun of the gift was trying to decide which of us kids were associated with which Monkey. As with most aspects of character, we each probably embodied all of the three options at various times in our lives.
It should be noted that any small amount of research with regard to the Monkeys reveals their approximate 17th-century origin. (Most sources point to Japan, while some point to earlier China.) I find it especially interesting that while Buddhist interpretation upholds the Monkeys as outstanding models of spiritual awareness and restraint, later Western versions deem the Monkeys as cowards who are not willing to face life challenges or their own shortcomings.
With regard to this differing perspective, I align with the Buddhist explanation: I view the Monkeys as allegorical humans, striving to do their best when confronted with difficult or upsetting experiences. These Monkeys want to take the high road: They aim to offset any impulse toward narrow vision; preconceived notions; or bitter refrain.
If, however, one feels more connected to the idea that these Monkeys are distancing themselves from what is happening, the “proverb” becomes a cautionary tale. What happens when one buys into the illusion, rather than facing a situation in the moment? What becomes of Monkeys or humans when we consciously shut off some part of our ability to discern?
Today’s Silent Sunday practice offers a way to open and balance the organs of sight, hearing, and speech, and thus their metaphorical partners of discernment and response. Then, the session concludes with an unusual mudra, one that works in two ways: Either it acts as a shielding force from overwhelming energies; or, it connects one to the Universal Consciousness, wherein we can face our challenges with a sense of divine presence. How you choose to work with the mudra carries no judgement; rather, it may help you to understand your current needs, and provide a means to honor that reality.
To begin, I suggest that you wash your hands thoroughly, perhaps with a cleanser or herbal elixir that is particularly pleasant-smelling. To enhance your experience, you also might draw from the Islamic tradition of gently cleaning (thus clearing) the eyes, ears, and mouth. Think of this ritual as a reverent way to open the portals of divine communication.
Now, in your favorite seated and aligned position, place both hands on your knees, each hand resting on its pinky edge. The following two movements are used in qigong to stimulate and clear vision and hearing, respectively. In the first part, the eyes begin closed; each hand forms a sideways U, as if holding half a sandwich. Inhale as you sharply move the hands up in front of the eyes: As the hands come to eye level, the eyes open and quickly peak through the “sandwich” opening of the fingers and thumb of each hand. Exhale as you again close the eyes and quickly return the hands to the knees. Continue this rapid inhale up with eyes closed: quick opening and glance of the eyes; and then exhale as eyes close and hands lower quickly, for 2 minutes.
Next, repeat a similar movement toward the ears. The hands, however, begin face down on the knees. Then, they remain relaxed and open as they rise up to “land” a couple of inches away from, but next to the ears. The eyes remain closed, gazing at the Third Eye. So, inhale as you quickly bring the hands up to the ears, palms facing in, with some space between hands and ears; then, just as quickly bring the hands back to the knees as you exhale, palms down. Eyes remain closed, gazing at the Third Eye. Continue for another 2 minutes.
Then, in order to cleanse your tongue and throat, place your hands gently on your throat. One hand covers the other, allowing the hands to find their natural placement; consciously rest the hands with gentleness, so that your Throat Chakra feels comforted and supported. If possible, stick your tongue out and curl it into a “straw.” If you can not make a tube with your tongue, simply stick the tongue tip out between slightly parted lips. Inhale deeply through the “straw” or opening; exhale fully through the nose. Continue this version of Sitali Pranayama for 2 minutes.
Now, release the hands from the throat, and breathe normally, yet consciously for a few breaths. Then, with eyes closed, bring your hands to cover the entire face: Spread the fingers wide, open the palms fully, and aim to create a covering “net” from top to bottom, side to side of your face. The mantra that accompanies this protective or connective mudra is: Humee Hum Brahm Hum. Essentially, the syllables connote: We All are One with the Divine, as We All are One with Universal Consciousness.
With eyes closed and hands stretching to cover the face, inhale completely: Suspend the breath as you silently and quickly chant the mantra. Your closed-eye movements will direct the chant: Turn your closed eyes down a bit, as if to look at the nose. Then quickly dart the eyes to look at the left ear, then the right; then the left; and again the right ear. As you flit the eyes left-right-left-right, chant: Humee (left), Hum (right), Brahm (left), Hum (right); repeat two more times, for a total of 12 eye movements, and 3 mantra recitations.
Now, exhale slowly and steadily, and keep the breath out. Softly direct the gaze upward to the Third Eye. Silently and fairly rapidly chant the mantra another three times. Then, inhale to begin the entire sequence again: Suspended inhale with 3 rounds of eye moves and mantra; followed by retained exhale with Third Eye gaze and 3 mantra chants. Repeat the sequence a third time to complete the meditation.
Before you enter Svasana, sit upright, allowing your eyes to rest gently under the closed lids. If you like, you may open your eyes, roll them in circles, or move the head in any direction, allowing your open eyes to readjust and relax. When you are ready, ease into Svasana, eyes softly closed, and rest for a few minutes.