Silent Sundays: Open To Interpretation…

This Silent Sunday morning began with a misread. As I considered various sources of spiritual inspiration and practice ideas to bring myself into the day, I honed in on a series of kundalini yoga kriyas (movement sets). My half-open eyes tried to decipher the title of one in particular: “Hearing Ezra and Esther”?

Because this was a compilation of kundalini yoga practices, I determined that “Ezra and Esther” must be “Earth and Ether.” (The name of the kriya in question is: “Healing Energies of Earth and Ether.”) My fuzzy reading turned my aim from practice to inquisitive research. I pulled out my graduate volumes of biblical concordance and interpretation, and set out to discover why Ezra and Esther had been called before me.

As I delved into the underpinnings of each story—one primarily historical and the other a seeming biblical anomaly—my inner questions continued: What was I supposed to gather from this unexpected theological research? What in my own life could relate to the substantial earthly tasks accorded to Ezra and Esther? 

Despite the wealth of bible-related tomes on my shelves, I am not prone to consulting the Bible: Rarely is it my source of inspiration or comfort. The books do, however, remind me of a time when a lack of confidence was assuaged by a kind and wise seminary president. In response to my concern that my lack of biblical knowledge—pointedly, that I had never opened a Bible—would limit my ability as a potential student, he assured me with calm certainty that it could be to my advantage.

I thus ventured into graduate school, found that the studies fed my soul, and emerged with the highest academic honor granted by the seminary. This portion of the tale is itself another reminder that all is ephemeral: After graduation and the subsequent beginning of a doctoral program, i fell apart. The epic that began in doubt, bolstered courage, and led to success and more success, culminated in a crushing defeat.

Why tell this story? The nature of the tale represents the journey of all human beings: No life is as it seems to observers. Further, the academic version of my experience of joy, blessed work, dismal failure, and hopelessness sits on my shelves in those books about the Bible.

Alongside the biblical volumes reside the writings with which I am more familiar, those that I would say characterize my spiritual beliefs, philosophies, and direction. These are comprised most notably of the works of Paramahansa Yogananda, a plethora of yogic teachings, and a slew of Eastern religious studies. 

Yet, this morning, I was compelled by way of blurred vision to consult those volumes dedicated to specific Bible books: Ezra and Esther.

From there, I tried to insert my answer to “why” I had been led to these stories. Immediately, I thought of the current situation concerning my mother’s passing and the money and property to be shared by me and my siblings. As it turns out, “Ezra” most often is read in relation to another book, Nehemiah. There, perhaps were my siblings: The two whose task it seems is to restore, rebuild, and uphold principles and traditions. 

While Ezra was more Job-like in his insistence that God was to blame for struggles and misfortune, Nehemiah was more prone to undertake his work with the wisdom and grace that God likely intended. Very much in line with the mindsets of my brother and sister…

But then why Esther? This correlation was more subtle: The actual Bible book is seen as a bit of a mystery, with regard to its inclusion at all. Whereas Ezra and Nehemiah may be seen as periods of biblical history (post-exilic stories), Esther’s tale makes no mention of God: Her narrative is one of feminine power in the face of an oppressive society.

To me, though, the book as an outsider resonated with my own sense of floating on the outskirts of family.

At this point, I began to wonder if my interpretation was too self-centered. Perhaps “Ezra and Esther” had a greater meaning in store, one that would speak to the universality of that which would truly signal a message from the divine realm.

I continued to flip through the pages of the now 8-book-high pile before me. As I perused, I was repeatedly stymied by the pages of an “interloper”: Esdras. Each time I moved to find Esther, Esdras foiled my search. Finally, I deigned to give the book some attention.

Lo and behold, Esdras is the expanded form of Ezra! Further, the narrative put forth in Esdras is of an apocalyptic nature: More than an historical piece, it explores personal enlightenment and evolution, by way of angelic vision. Finally, I seemed to be on the track of an explanation for my unexpected introduction to Ezra and Esther.

After several hours of reading and contemplation, my sense is that I needed yet another lesson to be cognizant of the sometimes subtle obstacles toward clear interpretation, if not spiritual discernment. When one’s circumstances flow too freely through the reading of a situation, the interpretation is partial, at best: Most likely, that which one is meant to see and learn will be marred, if not altogether inaccessible.

Once again, I have been reminded that interpretation can be led astray by preconception and perception. One can so easily become bogged down in earthly tasks and relationships that their role as propulsions toward divinity can be misinterpreted as strife designed to trip up or limit. 

As I emerge from this Silent Sunday’s pre-dawn call to intuit, investigate, discern, and decipher, I am left in a state of deep calm. The tensions of wrangling with inheritance; the self-loathing of past missteps; the unsettledness of wondering what comes next… All have been, are, and will be gifts of information and opportunity.

Special note: The aim of today’s writing is to offer fodder for your own contemplation and discernment of Meaning. In the piece, I address the interpretation of what I considered a divine cue: As such, the tale reveals the connection between Interpretation and Discernment, both of which require culling and clarity.

To that end, I include the following short meditation. It may be used anytime you need an open, flexible mind in pursuit of insight. 

Begin seated with your hands on the knees, palms down. With eyes closed and gazing to the Third Eye, breathe in deeply through the nose for 4 counts. Exhale through open, rounded lips for 6-8 beats. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 4. 

On the fifth breath, inhale through the nose as long as you can, counting the beats; exhale through the nose for at least 4 more beats. Repeat one more time.

Then, bring the left hand to shoulder level, palm facing forward and elbow bent in to the side, as if taking an oath. Curl all fingers into the palm except the index finger: Extend it straight up.

With the right hand remaining on the knee or thigh, turn the palm to face up. Touch the middle and pinky fingers to the thumb tip.

Now, breathe naturally, yet fully. As you sit and breathe with these mudras, you connect the mind to Universal Wisdom (index finger), while fostering discernment and intuition (middle and pinky, respectively). Remain here for 3-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: Express Ticket (Plus Audio!)

On this Silent Sunday, I won’t be. (Silent, that is…)

To forsake a dedicated ritual for even one day is a little disorienting. It does, however, offer the opportunity to practice the aim of the Silent Sunday discipline: Let no earthly distraction detract from awareness of and connection to the divine realm.

Because this disruption of silence includes a busy morning (housecleaning, dog-walking, airport pick-up), I created a quick, yet comprehensive practice to open, then steady and pacify the inner sanctum. In less than 10 minutes of movement and focused breath meditation, you will be prepared to greet the day.

Perhaps best of all? Because I am not in silence on this day, I recorded the audio version of today’s routine. To practice along, head to: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

The Moves 

Tuck Balance

Stretch Balance

Wide-Leg Release: Alternating stretch, Sufi’s Grind

Spinal Flow in Bridge

Inverted Butt Kicks

Reclining Twist

The Peace

8-Breath Meditation

Intuited Yoni Mudra

Silent Sundays: That Which Is Meant For You…

In contemplating a topic for this Silent Sunday, I found myself in a position I often assume when summoning clarity or direction. (This is the body mudra that will accompany the closing meditation of the following practice.) As I began to be conscious of how my hands and inner gaze were affixed, two words came to mind: “intuition” and “yoke.”

The correlation between the two eluded me briefly: To associate what connotes to me a freeing, elucidating state of mind (intuition) with a physical harness (yoke) seemed oxymoronic. But then I recalled yesterday’s conversation with a friend.

She and I were discussing the idea of aligning our choices with that which is truly intended for us during our earthly existence. We have touched on this topic in the past, as both of us—and most of all of us—have had the occasion to question decisions, motives, goals, etc. How does one know when a chosen path is the way forward? For my friend and me, Knowing is visceral: Our bodies convey a physical sensation when thought yields to intuited deference to that which is divinely decreed.

And that is the Yoke of today’s practice: not a mechanism of restraint or attachment to another’s aim or function, but an alliance born of Faith. When the Third Eye—Sixth Chakra, seat of intuition—is clear and receptive, the ability to yoke to divine Truth awakens.

The practice begins with a series of four movements designed to shift energy from the Lower Triangle of chakras to the Upper. Not only does this approach ultimately drive power to the Third Eye, it loosens and ejects stagnant or detrimental energies that may inhibit the flow of intuition.

First, sit on the floor with the legs extended straight forward: Feel free to perch on a bolster if this position is challenging. Extend the arms far enough down the thigh, so that the elbows are long. Slide the hands under the thighs to establish an anchoring hold. 

Begin spinal flexes: Inhale to push the chest and belly forward as the shoulders pull back; let the pelvis tip forward. Exhale to push into the back, curving the spine, and rocking the pelvis back.

Continue: Inhale to arch (or extend); exhale to round (flex). Breathe deeply with the movement for 1 minute.

Then, legs remaining long on the floor, place the hands by the hips. With flat palms or fisted hands, press down to lift the legs and bottom off of the floor; abruptly drop the body down. Inhale to lift; exhale to drop. Complete 16 Body Drops.

Be aware of your aim: to clear and move energy up to the Third Eye. The stimulation of the spine, along with slight shock of the Body Drops is shifting the energy upward.

To further motivate the vibrational ascension, come onto the back. If possible, move into Shoulder Stand. If this posture is not accessible for you, slide a pillow under the hips to gently elevate. Regardless, begin to kick the bottom, alternating sides with each kick. Exhale upon each rapid kick. Move as quickly and assertively as possible; again, remember that the move encourages the ousting of stagnancy and the energetic shift to the Third Eye. Continue to kick in the inverted position for 1 minute.

Now, roll onto the belly. Place the forehead on the floor, so that you can specifically sense the contact of the Third Eye—above the nose bridge, between the brows—with the ground. Should your facial structure limit your ability to feel the Third Eye against the floor, accentuate your closed eye focus to the area.

Then, bend the knees, and reach back to hold the feet or ankles. Raise the legs as if coming into Bow; however, keep the head and torso down. This is Half-Bow. With an intense closed-eye focus on the Third Eye, breathe deeply in and out through the nose for 3 minutes. If necessary, release the Half-Bow briefly, maintain breath and focus, and then resume the posture to complete the 3 minutes.

When you are ready, shift back into Baby Pose to ease the back muscles. Stay attuned to the Third Eye; at this point, your entire focus is on the seat of intuition.

Now, come into your preferred seated position. Bring the hands into Prayer Pose in front of the face. The forearms are stitched together, with the elbows at about the level of the Heart Center. Bring the base knuckles of the thumbs to rest on the Third Eye: The structure of your hands will allow them to nestle into the area in the position that is right for you.

Begin a breath with visualization. As you inhale through the nose, draw the breath up through the spinal corridor from Heart to Third Eye. As you exhale, press the tongue firmly up into the roof of the mouth: Expand intuitive energy from the Third Eye through the Crown Chakra. 

Inhale from Heart to Third Eye: exhale to further yoke intuition with Universal Wisdom.

Continue for 5-7 minutes. Then, ease into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

“Silent Sundays” Meets “Treasure Trove”

On this Silent Sunday, I offer a new entry into the Treasure Trove (TT) collection. For those who may have missed the introduction to Treasure Trove, it is a series of Everything Elsa practices converted to audio. Today’s TT is one of my first posts, from 2017, wherein I explain the origin and role of Silent Sundays in my life. Additionally, I include a short mudra meditation to aid the shift into silence.

You can practice today’s meditation by following the written version, linked at the end of this post. Or, if you prefer to be guided with the audio version, it will be available tomorrow (March 28) at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson. (There, the title will be: “On Silence, Plus…)

Special note: As a minor edit to the original piece, it has now been more than 20 years (not 15) that I have been practicing the discipline of silence on a weekly basis. Further, as regular readers know, the “meditation and pranayama” practices slated for each Silent Sunday have evolved, as well.

Upon reflection, I am more certain than ever that the weekly decision to not speak has fostered a spiritual fortitude that has helped me to make my way through multiple challenges. When all is well, on the other hand, the silent time opens the channels for awe and reverence.

Silent Sundays

Here’s to the exploration of Silence.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: How To Abide Duality

Yesterday, I attended an online 3HO (kundalini yoga) event for the March Equinox. Before one lecture, the speaker, Madhur-Nain, gave a brief introduction about how she came to blend her work as a therapist with her role as kundalini teacher. She described how for many years, she kept the two separate: She regarded those compartments of her life as a necessary duality.

Like most dualistic experiences and awarenesses, the situation was inherently incomplete: The separation of one from another intrinsically negates the chance for wholeness, for balance. Thus, she created a professional life for herself in which her two therapeutic backgrounds—yoga teacher and counselor—could inhabit the same space.

A few days before this, I had heard an interview with a singer, Michael Buble, who, when asked how he balances work and family, answered that ultimately, there is no balance: Family, for him, would always take precedence.

While these two situations may seem antithetical—one affirms that balance is possible, one states that one thing must always “weigh more”—they both relate to my personal and recent tussle with dualistic sensibilities and circumstances.

Certainly, it is no coincidence that this topic has leapt to the fore, given my mother’s recent death. What could create more of a sense of duality than the awareness that a loved one is no longer in the same dimension? But that is not the piece that has crept into my psyche the most: Instead, it is a conversation that I had with my sister soon after our mom’s passing.

Following her death, I began to feel a sense of emotional and mental discomfort with regard to a childhood situation that, for the the most part, was not mentioned in our family. As I talked about this with my sister, she commented that it was “not really in my life; it was its own separate thing.” I knew in that moment that, counter to my sister’s view, the situation had very much infiltrated my life; it had been with me—in me—ever since its occurrence.

Although I think my sister meant that I had compartmentalized it, her words struck me as false: The very nature of the childhood issue meant that there was no way it would not become part of my perceptions, views, and even my physicality. What her words revealed is that I had done a good job of living with it and of intellectualizing it.

But upon Mom’s death, I was faced with how something I had forced into a place of duality—then and now—was, in fact, ever-present. It happened, it infused my being, and it remains.

Duality comes in many different forms, many of which occupy the category of “inner vs. outer”: professional vs. personal self; private vs. public behaviors; honesty vs. secrets, and so on. 

And then there are the larger themes, such as earthly vs. divine realms; or reality vs. illusion. For me (and, I suspect, many others) that is perhaps a karmic task: to exist on this planet as a human being, despite the sense that this lifetime is one of an illusory nature.

How does one abide dualities large and small, emotional and physical, spiritual and intellectual?

First, I have come to believe that it does no good to ignore the inherent imbalance of duality. Rarely, if ever, do two discrete beliefs or circumstances or identities share equal importance to the person experiencing them. Duality is not a constant state of separate, but equal; rather, it is one of ongoing adjustment and adaptation.

Duality thus indicates the continual need to abide flux and dis-ease. To abide duality is to learn “how to live, despite….”

Now, to be perfectly frank, I am not happy about this realization. It does, however, offer a spiritual challenge, which is a context that I can, do, and will always accept, even welcome.

Contemplation and Meditation

So, on this Silent Sunday, I offer no “remedy,” nor even a singular way to approach Duality. Rather, I suggest contemplation of the dualities in your own life; how they affect seemingly unrelated areas of your life (e.g., patterns of behavior or cognition); and which “half” of the duality more often than not tips the scale.

After some quiet thinking time, bring your awarenesses to meditation. As a practice, the aim is to acknowledge any dissonance created by duality; calm it; and then release it into the universal realm, where it can be observed and accepted as a piece of your personal puzzle.

Mudras for Contemplation

As you sit and ponder the duality in your own life—impostor syndrome? mom or dad vs. professional power person? logic vs. emotion?—try one of the following mudras. Each will help to settle your thoughts, so that you can identify the nature and effect of the duality.

1) On each hand, hold the index finger down into the palm with the thumb. The other fingers remain straight. Then, place the hands on the knees or in the lap, palms up or down;

2)   Place one hand in the palm of the other, both palms up. Thumb tips touch;

3)   Touch the fingertips and thumb tips of one hand to the corresponding tips of the other. Palms are apart. Hold the mudra at any level in front of you; fingers are apart and point up.

Mudra for Meditation

In your seated position, touch the pinky sides of the hands together; turn the palms up. Let the hands be soft, so that they create a subtle bowl. Extend the arms out in front of the Heart Center; again, keep this relaxed—allow the elbows to be slightly bent. 

Consciously place your realizations from contemplation in the vessel of your hands. Let them be soft, but discernible, like dandelion fluff. 

Turn the closed eyes up to gaze at the Third Eye. Inhale deeply through the nose. Exhale through slightly open lips; direct the breath toward the hands, as if trying to blow the Duality “fluff” into the Universe. Continue for 3-5 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Personal Stories, Universal Truth

On this Silent Sunday, I find myself pondering Truth. Given the seeming complexity and elusiveness of the topic, I wonder why I feel compelled to wrangle with it: However, in questioning my yen to address Truth, I find a ready answer. What I refer to as complex and elusive is, essentially, fundamental and ever-present. So, to enter the fray with Truth is to seek Reality when the external environment feels surreal and inexplicable. 

Some of my thoughts were helped into a framework after I read an article in The Atlantic: “Our Brains Want the Story of the Pandemic to Be Something It Isn’t,” by Joe Pinsker. He describes the need that most of us have to “storify” our experiences. In doing so, we create an understandable through-line for events and feelings that could otherwise overwhelm us.

The notion of a narrative-based reality is, in itself, confounding. If events—their cause, their effect, their purpose, and sometimes even their existence—can be perceived and described so differently by so many different people, how can Truth be discerned?

While the the context of the article is the COVID-19 pandemic, the premise can be extended to address the current conflict in Ukraine…and more. Those in the midst of the bombings and attacks certainly feel the real pain and fear: However, those in Russia hear a different narrative, one that either denies the combat and resultant horrors, or one that rationalizes—even glorifies—the war. 

And “out here,” in a country thousands of miles away, I read and listen to Western news sources. I take it for granted that I hear the truth of the events: I watch and hear the stories of Ukrainians who have left the remains of loved ones in the rubble of what was once a home. And from my own throat and lips, sounds and words emerge that point to one thing: anger.

This is not the kind of anger that stirs when personally affronted. It is however, the kind of angry frustration that occurs when blatant inhumanity reigns. I felt similarly during the racist events of 2020; I feel the same soul-tearing when I think of the Holocaust; and I feel the uneasy quakes when I realize how prejudice and persecution is interwoven into our lives here on earth from Day One.

Then, I circle back to the contemplation of Truth. Confronted with the infuriating, confusing events that are taking place now—and those that have and will—my recourse is two-fold: release the unsettled emotion, and restore calm, abiding Faith. For when Truth is disguised, or when Truth is blurred by or replaced with conflicting narratives, I return to the one and only constant that also always was and always will be: God.

For those who question or hold no belief in the powers of the Divine Universe, the following practice is nonetheless applicable. Simply wrap your mind around whatever your sense of the ultimate Truth is. If, indeed, it is the world and body that you inhabit, then hone in on the most positive vibrations that exist within those forms. 

Regardless, the practice works to bring one back to a centered state of being, and then expands to unite the human self with the eternal Truth. This is the Truth that knows no narrative; it can not be rewritten or reimagined, nor altered in any way. It is unto itself. 

To free yourself from the constraints of ingrained stories and perceptions, you will undertake a thorough clearing of the entire chakra system. To stimulate each energy center and bring each into its optimal state is the first step. Then, all are harmonized, which establishes the foundation for impartial clarity—the ability to discern and receive the Truth.

Begin seated. With the palms or fists on the ground, press down to lift the hips off of the ground. Quickly drop the body down. Inhale to lift, exhale to drop. Be sure to keep the spine lifted and long: ideally, you will feel a reverberative shock all the way up through the spine with each drop. Complete 16 Drops.

Then, move immediately into Sufi Grinds. With the hands on the knees, circle the torso clockwise; undulate powerfully through the waist and ribs as if to massage each organ as you circle. Inhale through the front portion of the circle; exhale as you circle through the back space. 

Continue for 1 minute, then reverse directions. Continue counter-clockwise for 1 more minute.

Then, still seated, place the feet on the floor, knees bent. With the hands slightly behind the body, press down through the arms to lift the hips into a modified Rear Platform, or Table Pose.

Tilt the head back slightly; if necessary, you may keep it in a neutral position. With eyes closed and focused on the Third Eye, begin Breath of Fire through the nose: Continue for 1 minute.

Next, lower down and “flip the Table” to come onto all fours. From here, lower yourself down to bring the crown of the head to the floor. Release the hands behind you, and interlace the fingers. Lengthen through the elbows to straighten the arms, and lift the arms away from the back.

Inhale: As you exhale, settle the hips down toward the heels, and lower the arms down to the back. You will roll from the crown to the forehead. Inhale to shift forward and up onto the crown as the arms lift; exhale to settle back and down. Continue this Moving Yoga Mudra for 12 rounds. (One round is inhale up/exhale down.)

Now, return to a seated posture. Bring the arms in next to the body, elbows bent, palms facing each other: Fingers are straight and together on each hand. Begin to alternately shoot the arms straight up, full lengthening each arm as it darts upward. Fully and quickly extend and retract each arm before moving the other. Alternate left and right as quickly as possible: inhale up, exhale down. Continue for 1 minute.

Sit quietly for a few deep breaths. Then, bring the hands behind the neck, interlacing the fingers: Open the elbows as wide as possible. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, inhale deeply through the nose: Use your mind’e eye to guide the breath from the Root Chakra, or base of spine, up the front of the spine, all the way to the Crown; exhale to send the breath down through corridor of energy vortexes, back to the Root. Complete 8 of these long, slow visualized breaths.

Finally, place the left palm on the Heart Center. Bend the right arm, elbow against the waist, palm facing forward. Create Gyan Mudra: Touch the index and thumb tip together, other three fingers together and straight up.

With eyes closed and focused to the Third Eye, begin to silently chant: Aum Tat Sat (ohm taht suht). I suggest the inner chant of “Aum” on an inhale, and “Tat Sat” upon the exhale. The mantra acknowledges and exalts the eternal Truth of the Universe. Remain here, invoking and infusing that certainty within, for 3-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Grief: The Practice

Special note: The following practice was created to address the complex, often unexpected emotional and physical manifestations of Grief. As such, the routine can provide comfort and stability during any time of trepidation or uncertainty. The moves activate Root and Heart energy, thereby providing a sense of security and hopefulness.

If you find that to engage with the entire routine is too much on any given day, choose only that which resonates with and supports your immediate need. For example, if in a particularly raw state, perhaps you ease only into the bolstered Seated Forward Bend, and then directly to one or more parts of the closing meditation.  

You can find detailed instructions for the practice outlined below in the follow-along audio version, at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson.

Begin standing:

*Side bends with thoracic spine mobilization

This set of movements gradually eases the chest and upper back out of a closed or frozen state. The progressive nature of the sequence provides options: For example, one can choose to work only with the first or second move, rather than proceed to the full expression of the movement. In this way, one can identify and appropriately honor emotional and physical limitations throughout the grieving process.

*Half-stance Cat/Cow

*Crow Squat with Heart projection

Then:

*Baby Pose with moving Yoga Mudra arms

Seated:

*Body Drops

This move from kundalini yoga helps to loosen and eject any energy blocks in the First, or Root Chakra. Stuck energy in this area can exacerbate feelings of insecurity. The assertive movement strengthens the nerves that may feel frazzled by adrenalin, or numbed by uncertainty.

*Upper-body twisting

*Back-platform lifts

*Kundalini Lotus with Breath of Fire

*Supported Forward Bend

Three-part Mudra Meditation:

1) Eyes closed; no particular focus. Hands on low belly, left over right, with right thumb on navel point. Inhale; suspend; squeeze Root Lock; release and exhale; repeat. Continue for 1 minute.

2) Right palm remains on belly; bring the left to rest on the Heart Center. Natural and conscious breathing for 1 more minute.

3)  Bring right hand to cover left; interlock the thumbs; fingers spread and angle out toward shoulders. This is Garuda Mudra: Use judiciously to dispel emotional or physical exhaustion; or to steady shifting moods.

With the closed eyes turned up to gaze at the Third Eye, begin a simple version of a breath taught by Paramahansa Yogananda. Curl the tongue back, reaching the tip toward the rear roof of the mouth; inhale through slightly parted lips, deeply and steadily. Close the lips to exhale, slowly and completely, through the nose. Continue for 1-3 minutes.

To close, sit in simple stillness, or ease into Svasana to rest for as long as you like.