I’ve been practicing yoga for 12 years. Over the years, my practice has changed depending on the basic conditions of my life: my age, my health, my schedule, my location, my physical and spiritual interests and needs, my romantic relationships, my relationship with chocolate chip cookies. Each time I’ve come to a point of transition in how I practice, or where I practice, or with whom I practice (and, more recently: how I teach, where I teach, and for whom I teach), I start to question why I’m doing what I am doing and what is the ultimate goal.
The questioning is uncomfortable—who wants to question a thing they love?
It feels dirty, disloyal. It creates murk in a stream that once felt swimmingly clear. But I’ve learned that it’s an inevitable part of any path. Whether we like it or not, questions arise—if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have some version of this symbol in every language: “?” Luckily (or unluckily), I come from Jewish heritage, so questioning is in my blood. In Judaism, it’s godly to question.
So, I’m questioning.
And I’m reading this book right now called A Path With Heart. It’s by Jack Kornfield, one of the founders of Spirit Rock, a Buddhist meditation retreat center up in Marin that runs regular residential silent meditation retreats. (It’s a top local joint that I highly recommend, especially if you’re one of those people who thinks you “could never” sit in silence for a week, which is nearly everyone unless you’ve actually done it and know that you could, in fact, have.)
Anyway: In the first few pages of his book, Jack gets down to the crux of the matter. He says that no matter what road you’re driving your spiritual chariot down, you’ve got to keep coming back to the question of whether or not your path has heart. To paraphrase, you could be touching your first metatarsal to your crown chakra or chanting Om Namah Shivaya until the cows come home (and if you’re doing that in India, it won’t be very long—the cows are always coming home), but if you’re not practicing from a place of love, there’s no point to it. Or, maybe there’s some point to it … but it’s not the point.
This isn’t just about yoga or meditation. The same is true for anything you do. Take art, for instance. If your art has no heart, it may look or sound pretty, but its cosmic shelf life is going to be shorter than a wink. Good art creates soul grooves. It has a ripple effect. It’s a rechargeable battery that powers up each time it connects with a new source. It needs to be infused with real juice, the kind that comes from that metaphorical, physiological blood pumper that sits just to the right of center—in your chest.
There’s a lot of heart in our city.
I went to see a play last weekend called Dogsbody at Intersection for the Arts by Erik Ehn, a gifted spiritual warrior who has crafted 17 poetic theatrical works on genocide as part of a project called Soulographie to wake us up to the realities of war. (The project is en route to NYC, so if you’re out there November 11-18, get in on it.) I also hit Martin Scott’s Saturday morning yoga class at Union Yoga, for which all proceeds generously go to Headstand.org, an organization that brings yoga to at-risk youth. Both Erik and Martin are heart-ists.
Here’s a line from Kornfield’s book, which I’ve been reading to my own classes this past week. He’s quoting Carlos Castaneda who’s referring to a teaching by Don Juan:
“Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone one question …. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.”
Not a bad one to pull out when faced with a moment of evaluation. Here’s to landing in a place where that question has the right answer.
Around the Bend
(some upcoming events with heart)
Sweat and Study: Chants and Invocations for Yoga
If you love chanting to Ganesh and the other colorful yoga deities, this workshop is the place to be this Sunday. You’ll learn several of the basic yoga mantras and—if you’re already a regular chanter—you’ll learn how to lead them. Sean Feit is a gem. It’s worth the trip to Berkeley.
9/30, 2-5, $20, Yoga Tree Telegraph
Sivananda Poetry Night
The Sivananda center in San Franciso has a new monthly poetry satsang. This week, hear Virginia Barrett (Vidya devi) read poems from her forthcoming book, I Just Wear My Wings, and bring a short poem (your own or one from a spiritual teacher/writer). Tea and snacks available.
9/28, 7:30 - 9:15 p.m, suggested donation $5-$10, Sivananda Center in SF
Union Yoga’s Donation-Based Vinyasa for Headstand.org
This fun, challenging flow class taught by Martin Scott on Saturday mornings is entirely donation-based, and all of the profits support the non-profit organization Headstand.org, which brings yoga classes to at-risk youth in underserved schools. It fills up (as it should) so register online beforehand.
Every Saturday, 9am, suggested donation $15, Union Yoga
KFOG Harmony by The Bay
KFOG shows some love to yogis in its Harmony by the Bay concert by offering a special yoga stage. (If you go, please report back on what this actually looked like—I’ve no idea!) Musical acts for the outdoor concert include The Shins, Tegan and Sara, and the holy rapper Matisyahu.
9/29, $40-$75, Shoreline Amphitheatre. More info: www.harmonybythebay.org/2012
Karen Macklin is a yoga teacher and multi-genre writer in San Francisco. She's been up-dogging her way down the yogic path for over a decade, and is a lifelong lover of the word. To learn more about her teaching schedule and writing life, visit her site at www.karenmacklin.com.