Monthly Archives: September 2016

A vacation back to my hometown: a photo essay

I took a trip back to my hometown of Albuquerque for vacation this year. I wanted to see my father who has had some health problems in the past few years and my 89 year old Grandmother. It was a bit of a bittersweet trip as my mom who has lived in Hawai’i for 22 years decided to move back to New Mexico recently and was along to search for a new house.

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This is my brother David and his wife Von. Von doesn’t like pictures, but I thought this was an adorable picture of them. My brother is a loving husband and a hard worker.

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One of the charms of Albuquerque this time of year is that hot air balloons festoon the skies preping for the balloon fiesta in early October. I remember as a child one of these landed in our school yard and they let us all out to see. This was taken from my brother’s front door.

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What New Mexico lacks in greenery, it more than makes up for in other colors. Here is the red cliff in the Jemez Pueblo, an Indian (Native American) reservation an hour north of Albuquerque.

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No trip to Jemez in complete without Indian fry bread. With a little honey this will put any doughnut to shame. Being fried in pure lard may have something to do with it.

img_1148Jemez Springs is quintessential New Mexico in my opinion. You can see the Spanish Mission influences in the architecture, the cobalt blue skies, and red clay mountains. This is where I spent some special moments in my youth fishing and camping with my parents.

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Green chile is a New Mexico staple. Every fall these are roasted in metal drums and the aroma is earthy and otherworldly. I remember in college me and two roommates ate a half a trash bag full of these one afternoon. We suffered, but it was worth it.

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This is my dad making enchiladas. In New Mexico, they are stacked with an over easy egg and red chile smothered on top. Red chile is made by drying the above green chiles on “ristras” or hanging chiles which have a dual decoration and culinary usage.

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Next day we went shopping in Old Town Albuquerque. Here Native Americans sell there beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry as they have done for years. There is actually a “Romero” street (my last name). Romero is a family name traced back to the Spanish conquistadors in New Mexico 400 years ago.

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Here is my mom in an Old Town cafe. Again the colors…

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This mercado sells Mexican blankets for a very low price. As well as aisles of colorful pots and other goodies.

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These will make a great addition to my yoga props for my students….

 

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Book Review: I Am That, by Nisargadatta Maharaj

I just finished all 531 pages of I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj, translated by Maurice Frydman. I started reading it in late May and just finished now in mid-September. Why did it take me so long? It certainly wasn’t that he used complicated words. Any high school student could understand it if they have the patience to decipher some the Sanskrit terminology that can be found in the book’s appendix. It certainly wasn’t long drawn out chapters. The book contains 101 chapters which are two to four pages long. It took me so long because the concepts in the book, when thought about and considered, are among the deepest one may experience.

The book is in the the typical question and answer format one reads in most of the non-dualist genre. Nisargadatta Maharaj gave satsang, or spiritual teachings, based out his Bombay (Mumbai) apartment until his death in 1981. He wasn’t a typical yoga practitioner. He made a living making and selling cigarettes on the street and chain smoked them as he gave his teachings. He liked to argue with his disciples, and would kick them out if he felt they have overstayed their welcome after receiving the essence of his teachings. He only spoke in Marathi, and would employ translators for Westerners.

In all of his eccentricities, his teachings get to the heart of the matter: we are not what we take ourselves to be, we are the very universe itself. He foremost rejects that he is his body which is repeated ad nauseum in this text. He rejects that he is his mind, which he says belongs to the body. “As long as one is burdened with a personality, one is exposed to its idiosyncrasies and habits.” He says he is that which does not change: the purusha. Purusha can be translated as “soul” but Maharaj gives it a much more nuanced and textured meaning throughout his book.

His basic teaching is summed up in this dialogue:

Maharaj: How can an unsteady mind make itself steady? Of course it cannot. It is the nature of the mind to roam about. All you can do is to shift the focus of consciousness beyond the mind.

Questioner: How is it done?

Maharaj: Refuse all thoughts except one: the thought ‘I am’. The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet. Once you are quiet, things will begin to happen spontaneously and quite naturally without any interference on your part. (page 17)

This may sound a lot like the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Maharaj’s teachings are very similar with the exception that Maharaj was not silent the way Ramana Maharshi was (Maharshi said very few words to his devotees). But by using his preferred format of argument, the teachings of Nisargadatta yield more concrete “instructions” that are well suited for the Western mind.

I would recommend this book after one is familiarized with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, as many of the concepts draw from that classic text. In fact if you struggle with the Sutra-s in terms of how prakriti and purusha interplay, I Am That offers elegant explanations and possible solutions. To read this book properly, I wouldn’t advise taking on more than a chapter a day (3-4 pages), and really think about the words. You won’t be the same after reading it.

Linked below is a pdf of the book, and also a video which can be viewed as a primer to the teachings.

http://advaita.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/1-I-Am-That-Nisargadatta-Maharaj-Resumo.pdf

 

Jupiter’s South Pole…the great mandala

This image just came back from the NASA satellite Juno launched in 2011 to explore Jupiter. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with Jupiter from the Voyager missions. It is such a turbulent planet with a toxic gaseous atmosphere and a great storm with winds up to 400 miles per hour. Jupiter’s beauty lies in its turbulence.

It also has many moons among which is Io, a volcanic moon which is a pure firework spouting sulfur hundreds of kilometers into space. That makes it visible from Earth, as Galileo discovered it in the 1600s from the crude astronomical instruments at the time.

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Io

I am part of a Hubble Image discussion group on Facebook on which there are serious astronomers. I am just there because I like to see the images from the universe. One scientist in the group commented that he does not like people referencing the spiritual or God when commenting on these images. To me, one can simultaneously be scientifically minded and still view the wonders of the universe as spiritual experience. In fact one who can’t do both is quite limited in my opinion.

As one gets into their yoga practice for several years, one starts to see that they are not separate from anything. The Upanisads say that Brahman is everywhere in the universe. When I see these images, I feel a deep connection, as though I am a part of them in the farthest reaches of the galaxy. The galaxy is full of wonder. Not only with its contents, but with its sheer vastness. The opening mantra of the Isa Upanishad talks about how all is infinite and perfect, and that we are very much a part of that infinity and perfection.

Carl Jung theorized about the archetypes, or images that recur throughout all of humanity. One he was particularly fascinated with was the mandala. One can see forms of mandalas in all religions. From the stained glass at in the Chartres Cathedral, to the dancing pattern in Sufi’s whirling dervishes, to Tibetan sand forms. When one sees the underside of Jupiter, one sees all of these and more.

Each ring in the photograph represents a different “belt” of clouds. Very much like the Earth’s tropics above and below the equator, these belts represent a different direction in which the weather patterns move. When we do twisting asanas like parivrtta trikonasana, our bodies take on this very same phenomenon with different fluids and gases of the body moving in spiraling patterns. When we do pranayama, the air enters our system and heats up immediately. This causes “storms” in our different bodily region and regulates our prana. When done correctly, the weather in our body is harmonious. When done improperly, like Jupiter, our nervous system becomes turbulent. We are not different than the universe. The universe is not different from us.