It gives me great pleasure to introduce you all to one of our regular contributors. Some of you probably know him. He has been a big part of my life, well for my entire life. We have often times walked this path together, inspiring each other and supporting each other. At least he has been a constant source of inspiration for me. This is his first of many posts and I hope you find as much inspiration as I do. My dad, Donald English from Greenville, NC.
My Evolving Practice
Nearly twenty years ago I began practicing yoga. My teacher called yoga “meditation in motion.” I began to let go of the struggle in the poses and settled into a practice of enjoyment. About five years into my yoga postures practice, I became a certified yoga teacher and learned about meditation as a separate, but related, practice. A friend who had a lifelong meditation practice gave me some basic instructions, and I began sitting for a couple of minutes a day. Over time my sitting practice lengthened and deepened.
By learning to be present for my breath, I learned to be present for other things as well, and the interesting thing is it happened without really thinking about it. Being present means that I don’t react as often out of the dictates of the junk that’s stored in my unconscious. I still do, of course, but with less frequency because a gap has been created between stimulus and response. This creates time for me to choose my reaction rather than react out of habit. The result is more calm and less stress, but it didn’t happen suddenly overnight. And certain buttons still get pushed.
For years I have ended my yoga classes with an invocation in which I seek to become a source of loving kindness, “May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be happy just as I am. May I be free from pain and suffering.” Then extending it in ever widening circles, to friends and loved ones, to enemies and those who would harm me, and finally to all beings. When I began to do this, I thought it was just a nice yogic way to end the class. It was several years before I realized how much it had changed me.
Over the years another very powerful practice that has grown out of my meditation is cultivating yoga’s Four Attitudes: friendliness toward the joyful, compassion for the suffering, celebration of the good in others, and impartiality towards the negativity of others. This is not always easy to put into practice, especially when dealing with a person I feel has slighted me in some way. In a very real sense, cultivating the Four Attitudes has made the loving kindness practice real and tangible.
Mindfulness has been defined as being in the moment, on purpose, and without judgment. Recently I’ve been working on the non-judgmental part of mindfulness meditation, not only reserving judgment about people, but also about events. The story about the farmer whose horse ran off is illustrative. His neighbors said, “Such bad luck.” And the farmer said, “Maybe.” Then the horse came back with three other wild horses, and the neighbors said, “Such good luck.” And, of course, the farmer replied, “Well, maybe.” When the farmer’s son was injured trying to tame the wild horses, the neighbors said, “Such bad luck.” And the farmer answered, “Maybe.” Then war came and the army drafted the village youth, except for the farmer’s son who was still recovering from his broken leg. And his neighbors said, “What good luck.” And the farmer, being a man of few words, said, “Maybe.” There are probably many lessons to take from this story, but one certainly is that as one door closes, another opens.
As I look back at my practice, I realize how organic it has been, growing over time, branching off in new directions to accommodate my personal explorations and needs. But to keep perspective, it is important, I think, to realize that this seemingly complex practice began simply as an attempt to be present for my life by focusing on my breath. These ancillary practices were not part of my original practice. They evolved in response to insights that grew out of the breath practice.