Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bramacharya: Knowing What's Enough or Non-Excess

I always think of food first when I think of Bramacharya, or non-excess. In the Yama's and Niyamas, Deborah states, "I know firsthand the misery of a too full stomach..As I sit in the heaviness of excess, I find myself once again in disbelief that I have done this to myself...All I can do is suffer and watch how overindulgance has imposed itself on the joy of the moment." (p.76)

We've all been there. I know I have. In fact, I often struggle with eating too much and it is a brilliant metaphor for not knowing when enough is enough in life. I love to eat. I love food. I consider myself to be a "Foodie," whatever that means-perhaps that I am a bit of a food snob or maybe that I like to enjoy well prepared, whole foods. I consider myself a healthy eater, even though I am not currently practicing vegetarianism, canabalism (threw that it for fun to see if you were paying attention!) or any other "ism" for that matter.

So, I am here to admit that there is shadow side to this "Foodie" business for me and it's wrapped in the bloated packaging of excess: cookie dough. Well actually, cookie dough, cookies, cake, and candy (particularly toffee). Distilled a bit more and it really boils down to one thing: SUGAR.

I significantly over eat when it comes to sugar. And cheese. Really sharp cheese. And crusty bread. Alright, I digress, mostly anything that tastes good I have a tendency to over eat!

But hey, we live in a "super-size me" country with super-sized portions and super-sized cars and super-sized closets and super-sized houses. We shop in super-sized warehouses and we, the people, are even becoming super-sized. So what's the BIG deal, you might ask?

Well, Bramacharya has a few things to say about all that. Namely that the mind is capable of turning a simple desire into an emotional attachment which can lead to addiction. When we associate food or drink or shopping with an emotional feeling, our mind can trick us into thinking we "need" to do something or eat something. I experience this everytime I watch a movie on Netflix. I associate the experience with eating popcorn and not just any popcorn, but popcorm smothered in real butter. Yummy!

And that is exactly what I have been watching out for these last few weeks, where I feel like I "need" to do something or eat something in excess. I have found that I am more disposed to slip into a place of excess when I am tired, disconnected, emotional or just plain unconscious, i.e. not awake in the present moment.

Bramacharya asks us to experiment with the principle of "when is enough, enough?" It asks us to look at our lives and how we deaden ourselves through excess. It asks us to experiment with temperance and to ask ourselves how it feels to stop at enough.

This is a beautiful pratice for me, someone who, like a lot of women, turns to food for comfort. I certainly do feel more alive, energized and connected when I allow Bramacharya to flow into my life. Only thing is, the Knife River Candy Store opened today after being closed for a really, really, long, cold, dark winter.

Damn the gods!

"When we get the real nourishment that divine mystery gives, the pretend nourishment of excess becomes less and less interesting to us." -Deborah Adele

Monday, April 4, 2011

Asteya or Non-Stealing: Living with Integrity and Reciprocity

Asteya or non-stealing is the third Yama in yoga's ethical code. Each of us steal in many ways, every day-from each other, the earth, ourselves and from the future. This can show up looking like arrogance, one upmanship, by not being present when listening to others, jealousy, and excessive consumption of resources from the earth, to name a few.

My assignment over the last couple of weeks has been to notice when I am stealing from the earth and the future. The question for exploration was, "Where are you taking without returning something of equal value?"

Deborah makes a good point on page 62 of The Yamas and Niyamas when she says, "You wouldn't go to a friend's house for dinner, complain about the food, leave your trash lying around and walk off with the candlesticks because you wanted them. And yet, this is so often how we treat our world."

I began pondering this question on the heels of the Tsunami and earthquake in Japan when our fragility as human beings dependent on the earth was violently and tragically showcased. I have been sitting with the idea that what may really be taking place is a magnanimous imbalance within the earth's ecosystems and within ourselves. Calling it a "natural disaster" is a limiting concept that fails to include a holistic approach to engaging with and understanding our world.

The earth is a living organism that each of us are intrinsically connected to. We depend on her resources and we depend on her to be the very foundation we survive upon. Many cultures, both past and present, have known this and honored it. As within, so without, as it were.

Using only what is needed and giving back to the earth are anathema to many people raised to believe that they can have whatever they want, as much as they want, whenever they want, without regard for consequence. I too, was raised an American on consumer culture-super size portions, plastic bags, cheap clothes made in China and all of the petrol one's car could guzzle.

I still struggle with feeling entitled to consume with wild abandon even though my life has been scaled down to a simple country existence with minimal possessions and a garden.

And as I really began to look at where I was taking something without giving something back- whoa Nelly! I was a little bit shocked by how much my engagement with the earth still lacks reciprocity.

Even looking at one simple example like food leads to a conundrum of epic proportions for someone, like me, who is used to having every single type of fruit and vegetable available year round. To even begin to ponder the ridiculousness of buying a tomato from Chile, not to mention the enormous load of resources required to get that tomato from one continent to another-makes me a little bit crazy.

But there is hope.

There is hope in the seedlings that are coming up in my front windows. There is hope in the compost pile in the back yard. There is hope in the renewing season of spring. There is hope in all of the sustainable energy and agriculture movements that are popping up all over the US. There is hope in local food. There is hope in re-using old materials creatively. There is hope in local trade and bartering. There is hope in the possibility that each one of us may begin to wake up to our connection to that which we are dependent on for survival.

Asteya asks each of us to begin with ourselves and I am itching here in KR at the beginning of April to get outside and get my hands in the dirt, to re-affirm my relationship with the life giving soil, to plant and watch more hope grow throughout the summer, to tend to becoming more reciprocal.

"The earth is what we all have in common." -Wendell Barry