Silent Sundays: There and Back

“The trouble is you’ve got to get through to him inside yourself; you’ve got to understand him…”

(From May Sarton: Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, 1965).

I decided to put myself There. There, in the mind of someone—anyone—who thinks differently than I do: less rationally, or more accurately, or more open-mindedly, or more narrowly. Perhaps this person was raised in a different culture or country or religion; perhaps this someone is a different gender, color, age, or of a different educational or economic status. Maybe, even, They are family or a close friend.

The thoughts and perspectives of this person are frustratingly opposed to mine. Or, they seem to be: What if, somewhere in all of the dissonance and vitriol and bafflement that our differences elicit, we have something in common? What if, for one brief moment, we determined to freeze our opinions in time and space; what if, from there, we each grabbed the other’s thoughts and considered them our own?

In recent days, especially, but also for almost a year, I have tried to occupy the mind space of people with whom I disagree about a significant social issue. Part of the difficulty is that while at first it may appear that we differ on one topic, that topic is tied in to many others: It does not begin and end with a global health emergency; it does not reside solely within the realm of politics or policy; and it is not only a matter of demographics. Thus, to wrap my head around and burrow into the mind of another has proven challenging.

I have come close. I have paid attention to the emotion or lack thereof associated with those of a different view: The greater the emotional vibration attached to the person’s ideas, the more likely I am to feel my way into their mindset. This is typical of me: I tend to resonate with another’s emotions; empathy is a strong connector for me. There have been times, of course, when I must quickly and definitively erect solid boundaries, in order to safeguard my energy, my heart, my mind. But for the most part, I am more able and willing to pursue a differing opinion when I can detect the emotion behind it.

“Do not be satisfied with drops of wisdom from scanty earthy sources; rather seek wisdom without measure from God’s all-possessing, all bountiful hands” (Paramahansa Yogananda, Para-Grams).

This is in keeping with my usual Way: I am eminently more comfortable with all things Spirit and Heart, than with earthbound qualities and behaviors. The spiritual realm simply is one in which I feel at home. That is not to say that prayer and meditation resolve all earthly conundrums and conflicts, but they offer solace to my Soul and Heart in times of distress.

“As you look upon creation, which appears so solid and real, remember always to think of it as ideas in the mind of God, frozen into physical forms” (Yogananda, SRF Lessons). 

Yet, intellectually and physically, I exist on this planet at this time in eternity. What happens in the world matters to me: What happens to each one of us in the context of earthly life can create vibrational fissures or melds for the whole. Thus, while I am wont to focus on inner peace as an offering to universal peace, I recognize that sometimes one needs to wrangle with the hard-hitting illusions that we call reality.

At some point, rationality kicks in; evidence and experience rise to the fore. Then, I need to softly find my way out of the mind into which I wandered. Those thoughts do not belong in my personal field of perspective and spiritual pursuit.

And that, I believe, is the crux of the current social antagonism about an issue which at first glance would seem to be clear-cut. But even the most rational discussion bears the mark of each participant’s past, present, and assumed future. We bring our emotions, mental processes, and psychological tendencies to the table every time, regardless of intellectual and rhetorical prowess. 

One is arguably most likely to rant at or belittle or dismiss the thoughts of another when those ideas seem to threaten a fundamental sense of security. One may think that the battle is with a virus, but such an enemy to physical health would be the province of science and medicine. Instead, the waged war has become a war of rage. Many seem to feel more threatened by differing opinions than by a deadly virus.

Yet “rage” is based in fear: fear of loss of freedom, of work, of agency, of choice. Most of all, each person with an opinion—regardless of its nature—seems to be shaken by the Other’s inability to understand, much less agree. To realize that the most vehement of beliefs are Truth to the believer may be an inroad. As inconceivable as another’s opinion may be, it may be valuable to enter the struggle to comprehend their perspective. And if such a venture results in thrown-up hands and rolling eyeballs, it may help to remember the base need of the opponent. It is the same for all: to feel heard.

“Might a definition of ‘rest’ be just this, the being understood?” (Sarton, Mermaids)

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Current State–The Electric Path to Meditation

In the year 2000, I began to study the Lessons of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). At the time, I was an ashtanga yoga teacher who also regularly practiced kundalini yoga. As my body became stronger and more centered, my emotions balanced and my mind opened, and I intuitively and consciously sought spiritual advancement. The Lessons introduced an idea of how and why such progressions occur, and provided a framework of understanding that resonated with me. 

There was, however, an early sticking point: the concept of electricity within the body, and how it relates to meditation. Upon first reading of this notion, I felt mildly disappointed: Because I craved esoteric insight, the idea that something as scientific and mundane as electricity may be behind feelings of spiritual connection was anticlimactic. I was looking for mysticism, and science pushed in.

I nonetheless completed the Lessons over the course of a year, and eventually became a Kriya member of SRF. This advancement required that I practice and become adept at the meditation techniques taught by Paramahansa. At the time, I kept my disappointment about electricity’s role in the process to myself: I devoted myself to the technique, and it remains part of my practice these 21 years later.

During this time, I was simultaneously practicing kundalini yoga. The practice felt natural and made perfect sense to my body and mind: The results of kundalini kriyas were immediate, and the benefits accrued exponentially over time. As I learned more about the basis of the practice’s body angles and their relationship to the meridian system, I harked back to the idea of electrical flow in the body. 

My “disappointment” began to fade as determined curiosity emerged. 

And then came massage school just a few years later. Perhaps no surprise, I was drawn swiftly and easily to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and its foundation in elements and their related systems and meridians. Textbook diagrams illustrated the flow of qi (“chee”) through clear pathways, or channels: I saw a similarity to the idea of electrical current, or Life Force (Prana) traveling through the body. 

Two years after massage school, I began to study qigong, which essentially taught me how to harness and direct the qi, or energy in the body to promote the health of myself and others. My hands always have been able to sense and guide energy; qigong enhanced their natural ability by providing specific techniques and explanations for their work.

Now, 15 years after those qigong classes and 20 years after delving into SRF techniques and kundalini yoga, I have embarked on an intensive course of meditation, in general. In the very first modules of reading are myriad articles about the nervous system and its “bioelectric” role in meditation. 

The idea of consciously “conducting electricity” through the body may be daunting, if not ridiculous to some. Recall my own disappointment that something as common and available as electrical impulse may be the route to spiritual evolution. But then I recognized the essence of the idea in ancient practices. Further, I found “proof” of its efficacy in the experience and practice of relaxing the body and controlling the breath, in order to access the mind and open to unseen realms.

On this Silent Sunday, I offer a practice to address your “current state,” your innate electric juice and the opportunities it offers. One component that links the idea of Life Force, body electricity, and chakra vortexes is the vagus nerve. This cranial nerve runs from the brain stem, through the neck, lungs, and digestive track. A strong vagus nerve (“high vagal tone”) supplies the ability to relax easily, and conversely, relaxation and meditation strengthen the nerve. 

In order to create the prime environment in which to access, harness, and direct energetic forces, it is necessary to clear your magnetic field. Come to stand, feet comfortably apart. With a slight bend in the knees, inhale as you raise both arms overhead, arching back gently; exhale to bring the arms and torso forward and down, only as far as feels safe for the lower back. Immediately inhale back up; exhale into your version of a forward bend. Continue this “miracle bend” for 2 minutes: Use the first minute or so to warm and ease stiff muscles, and then move more fluidly and fully for the second minute.

Having cleared the vertical field, begin an upper-body swing. With the arms out to the sides at shoulder level, palms down, inhale: Exhale, and rotate to the left; as you do so, the right elbow bends, bringing the hand toward the Heart Center. Inhale back to center, lengthening  though the right arm again; exhale to the right, bringing the left hand toward the Heart. Inhale back through center with both arms long, and continue to the left, through center, then right. Breathe deeply and fully as you twist at a good pace, being aware that you are clearing the horizontal plane. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, as you remain standing, again bring the arms out to the sides at shoulder level. With palms down, touch the thumb tips to the inner bases of the ring fingers (next to the middle finger): Keep this detoxifying mudra as you begin to see-saw the arms rapidly. Inhale as the left arm lifts and right arm lowers; exhale as the right comes up, and the left goes down. Continue powerfully for 1 minute.

Next, help yourself to the ground for traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Inhale and exhale, arching and rounding the spine for 1 minute.

Special note: Those who regularly read Everything Elsa and/or Silent Sundays know that I include spinal work in almost every practice and meditation. This is a direct result of my involvement with SRF techniques and kundalini yoga: Both systems—and yoga, in general—acknowledge the spine as the central channel for conduction of all energy, be it neural or spiritual.

With the auric field clear and the spine warm, lower down onto the belly. Begin by raising up onto the forearms—as in Sphinx Pose—with an inhale; exhale to lower down. Repeat 26 times.

Next, bend the knees; reach back to hold the ankles or feet. Inhale to raise the thighs, head and chest up; exhale to lower down. Repeat 12 times.

Now, after the subtle stimulation of the physical regions associated with the vagus nerve, rise up into Full Bow (hands holding feet or ankles; body and legs raised off the floor). Inhale as you rock back; exhale to rock forward. It may take a few tries to find momentum and rhythm; stick with it—the eventual rock with actively stimulate the areas through which the vagus nerve runs. Continue for 1 minute.

Briefly, push back into Baby Pose or Downward Dog. Breathe here for a few deep breaths, and then bring yourself into a seated position. With the eyes closed, bring your attention to the anatomical domain of the vagus nerve: neck, thoracic spine, upper belly. As such, one can connect the nerve’s “areas of interest” to the Third, Fourth, and Fifth chakras.

With the Heart Center forming the crux of this energy system, we now want to guide the vibration of the vagus nerve through the channel of the Heart. Here is where kundalini’s angle specificity comes into play: Whenever the arms (the location of the Heart and Pericardium meridians) are held up at 30 degree angles, the flow of that energy is optimal.

So, seated comfortably and sensing the “electrical buzz” in the neck, chest, and abdomen, bring the arms up to 30 degrees on either side of the head. Essentially, you create a large V with your arms. With the palms facing each other, inhale for 6 counts to gather the ball of energy in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th chakras; exhale for 10 to send the energy out and up through the arms and into the center point of each palm. Repeat the visualization with conscious breath 5 more times.

Special note: The extended exhalation also helps to increase vagal tone, thereby contributing to the relaxation response and readying the mind for meditation.

Now, continue to breathe in and out through the nose, without counting or visualizing, and allow the breath to meld with the pathway. Turn the closed eyes up to gaze at the Third Eye; focus here as you continue to breathe. In this way, you have connected your body’s physical energy—its electricity—to your personal spiritual endeavor.  Bolstered by your human current, the mind can now make its way toward communication with divine and universal energy. 

Hold the arms aloft as you breathe and focus into the Third Eye for at least 3 minutes. Then, with the arms remaining up or hands placed—palms up—on the knees, continue to meditate for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…