Monday, November 8, 2010

The Empty Bowl

Mind is a funny thing. She is always looking for separation, difference, quality, inequality, right and wrong. And I am grateful, because it is this discernment that let’s me know hot from cold and my house from yours. (Imagine if we just walked into any old house!?) But if mind is left unchecked she is no longer useful but instead problematic. If she looks for difference so much that she cannot see love, beauty and compassion, then she is simply creating separation, isolation and suffering.

Whenever I go through a big internal or emotional transformation, the shift often leaves me grappling with this feeling of difference and separation. The old me was comfortable and the ground around me was familiar. I knew how to respond to the vicissitudes of life and I could easily observe the mind when she would slip in obtrusively. The new way, while still settling in, feels awkward—like a sore thumb—and uncomfortable. When I am acclimating to the new me, I can’t always easily differentiate between what is in my mind (ego looking for separation) and what is in my heart (spirit seeing unity).

Having just undergone a huge shift I was in the confounded state and really wanted to get back to me, so today I employed a couple of new techniques. In meditation, I sat with a beautiful raku bowl in my hands. Into it I poured all of the thoughts of confusion, separation, frustration, contracting, irritation and sadness. Anytime a thought, person or image arose that was, for lack of a better word, messy, I would drop it into the empty space of the bowl.

Held by the Goddess Kali on my altar, this bowl has the ability to absorb and transmute anything and everything that I place in it. And as such, this practice became sacred as a returning of thought back into the vast formless space of Source. A key distinction is the placing of these chitta vrittis (confusing and fluctuating thoughts) as an offering rather than as a way to purge something that is wrong. There is no wrong part as the essence of each of us is good, it is Divine. There is nothing absent from any of us, nor is there something that we must excise. We are, in this practice, not trying to get out of this earthly and embodied existence, but simply allowing the fluctuations to happen, letting go of control and stepping into the currents of grace.

I let go more and more in my practice, allowing the dross to float to the surface and leaving the new, more refined me clearly in the cross hairs of my heart’s vision. And here I began the second technique; I focused on unconditional love. Not love coming from me, not my personal preferences for things I love and things I don’t (that would be mind again, it has its purpose, just not here) but love coming through me. Two ways I tap into this greater love are through gratitude and through service.

So I started to recall all of the things, events and people for which I am grateful. At first it felt a little canned, full of more effort and less feeling, and I was seeing broad sweeps of information. I am grateful for all the people who love me, I am in gratitude for the roof over my head and the food in my belly. As I continued, the feelings began to flow freely, warm and true, and the gratitude became more specific. I am grateful for the family who hosted me on my trip to New Mexico, I am grateful that my body is beautiful and healthy. 

The more I looked for the gifts in my life, the more gifts I saw. The more gifts I thanked the Goddess for, the more empowered I felt to serve. A natural transition occurred out of the effulgence of love in the form of gratitude. With so much to be grateful for, how could I not share it with others?

I returned the bowl to the altar and opened my palms towards the sky. Floating them above my legs I held them open to direction, suggesting to mind that she remain open to the conversation with Love. How best to offer my unique and personal gifts to the world? I was reminded that this conversation exists in every moment. The gift of life or grace is the empty bowl, our bodies and minds the vessels through which love collects, empties out and is offered.

Making the body-mind a stronger vessel is a key practice of yoga. To make the bowl cleaner, more able to weather the transformations and able channel Love will just give the Love a bigger and brighter place to collect. Unconditional Love, for me, is just another name for God and it lives through and as each of us. When we open the flow on the faucet and allow it to run, we can dam it up over here or let it flow freely over there. We direct the flow in service, in making offerings of love and expressing our love through gratitude. For God-Goddess to live in this world He-She must move through us.

How we connect, what fills us and how we channel the energy of Unconditional Love is totally unique to each of us. It is our freedom to decide what to do with it, if anything at all. There are so many means available to us, so many ways to have sadhana (or spiritual practice). I just learned two new ones today simply by letting the process unfold.

May you recognize the gifts of your life, your heart and body-mind and offer a place for the Love to reside and move through you. May your bowl forever be both empty enough to hold more and yet always full of the ever-flowing Divine Unconditional Love.

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