The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.
~Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi
This particular poem was the first of Rumi's writings that I encountered so many years ago and it made me an instant devotee. Today I read it again, several times out loud, to allow the transmission to help me fully transition into this new year. Welcome to 2019! Another new opportunity to awaken and discover more of what our hearts truly desire. What a rigorous challenge and exquisite blessing it is to continue to wake up again and again as we seek to become conscious human beings rooted in something much bigger than ourselves. The temptation to roll over and go back to sleep is strong!
I've been practicing waking early these days as a part of my commitment to my Sadhana or spiritual practice. In the Kundalini yoga tradition early morning practice--somewhere between 4 and 6:30 am is prescribed because the power of "Amrit Vela" or twilight hours is believed to be the time when the ego is relinquished and union of the Soul and God are most easily achieved. Or as Rumi suggests, when the "secrets" of dawn are whispered. Additionally, it sets the entire tone for my day and surprisingly gives me the energy I require to live and work. My early mornings continue to be the most sacred time of my days. Kundalini is the yoga of awareness and energy. It is a technology designed to awaken the inner life force for physical healing, emotional balance and spiritual growth. The yoga practices or “Kriyas” and meditations utilize a combination of four powerful tools: Mantra (sound current/chanting), Pranayama (breath practices), Asana (physical postures) and Mudra (hand positions). Every Kundalini class works to balance the endocrine system and strengthen the nervous system so that we can live with greater vitality, clarity and joy. It is the most powerful yoga I have experienced thus far on my personal yogic journey.
It became so transformative for me that I decided to enroll in a year long Kundalini Teacher Training program that began last October. As part of our curriculum we are given a particular "Kriya" or set of yoga exercises and breath practices to do each day as well as an 11 minute meditation to commit to for the duration of the month until we meet again and are given a new set of practices. I love what the sustained and repetitive experience is offering me--a chance to go deep and explore many different facets of myself within a single practice. It takes 40 days to create a change in the grey matter of the brain, so committing to a single practice like this is instrumental when we want to transform our lives.
Another requirement of my teacher training was to attend a day of White Tantric Yoga, an annual Kundalini gathering that happens at the time of Winter Solstice at a ranch in Lake Wales, Florida. Perhaps, like me, you immediately begin to wonder what exactly is "White Tantric Yoga?" Do you imagine some free form group sex practices somehow disguised as yoga? Do you picture a re-creation of Osho's crazy cult like city depicted on the Netflix special "Wild Country?" Maybe you remember something you read about the famous musician Sting and his wife talking about their long, luxurious 2-3 hour lovemaking sessions inspired by yoga and tantra. All of those thoughts came to my mind. There are different kinds of tantric practices that you can read more about here but White Tantra is aimed at spiritual growth and involves meditation practices done with a partner; guided by a Mahan Tantric or master of the tradition.
I registered and began reading about the Kundalini White Tantric experience a month before I was scheduled to go. I saw pictures like this one below of how I would be positioned across from my partner (which I did not yet have) and invited to sit for over an hour at a time meditating into their eyes. . . .
Needless to say, my mind began to freak out and over the course of the month preceding the experience I envisioned every possible worst case scenario from claustrophobia to losing my mind entirely. When I asked my teachers how best to prepare for this, they all said happily "There is no preparation! Just do your best." I was told that you could show up without a partner and would be paired with someone when you arrive. This only added to my anxiety. However, less than a week before the scheduled day arrived, my cousin who lives in California texted that she would be coming to Florida specifically for the event and would love to connect. I asked if, by chance, she needed a partner assuming she already had one but she instantly said yes! And miraculously, I had the perfect partner. Deep relief. This process leading up to the event showed me much about how my mind can easily and quickly imagine the worst! It was already doing its work on me.
The day finally arrived and I woke at 4 am to drive to the ranch in time for the morning warm up exercises before the mediations began. I joyfully reunited with my cousin Charlotte, a beautiful grown woman who I remember walking to kindergarten when I lived in San Fransisco in my late 20's. We set up our little patch of camp in the tantra tent, positioned across from each other so our knees were touching. The facilitator for the day welcomed everyone and she said "This is a day to celebrate yourself. . .to honor the YOU in you." Somewhere between her words and the familiar presence of my cousin, I began to soften and lighten up. I would do my best and enjoy the experience.
The particular set of meditations chosen for that day were all based on the theme "Renew and Be You." We would first watch a video of Yogi Bhajan explain the meditation and then we would do it with our partner. We would be shown how to sit, for example, with our palms touching our partners at the level of the heart and looking directly to their eyes while chanting a mantra for 62 minutes. Then we would be given a 15-20 minute break and come back for the next meditation. The day followed this pattern for a total of six, 62 minute meditations. It's the equivalent of an Ironman for yogis! It seems obvious to say that it is a challenge. The meditations are meant to serve as a laboratory to explore the mind--the first 11 minutes are the hardest, I heard. All the shit comes to the surface--self-doubt, resistance, pain, anger. In some mediations tears poured as I felt myself release deeper levels of sadness, regret and pain. In other hours, laughter bubbled up as our meditation was visited by a little fly that would buzz around our heads and tickle our eyelashes as if to remind us not to take it too seriously. It was true, somehow magically after 11 minutes the experience shifted from impossible to possible. With our eyes steady and fixed on each other, our energy connected with the bigger group energy and riding the sound current of the mantras, a threshold is crossed and elevation and bliss become the main experience. Somewhere in that timeless space when the meditation became magic, the facilitator would say "This is the final 3 minutes. Stay with it!" and Charlotte and I would smile, our eyes growing excited and giving each other the unspoken encouragement to finish strong. And we did. Every time.
Driving home that night I couldn't believe what I had done that day. I felt a mixture of pride and humility. I desperately wanted to go back the next day and do it again. I was shown so many things about myself that I needed to see and have confirmed in the eyes looking back at me. It was one of the most transformative experiences I have had to date. My teacher said that one day of White Tantric practices does tremendous work to clear the subconscious mind and that it will continue to work on me for months afterward. I'm not entirely sure of all the ways it altered me but I know that I have been profoundly changed and it will be a part of me forever.
I am beginning this new year with some of the important lessons I learned from that single day and all that led up to it: when confronted with something new and different the mind will naturally conjure the worst. Our fears act as threshold guardians trying their best to keep us from changing. Keep going anyway. TRUST--what you need will come to you when you least expect it. How you enter into any experience, i.e. as a "celebration of the Self" or as a torture chamber can make all the difference in what you do actually encounter. Finally, just do your best. Chances are, it is far beyond what you think.
Let's cross the threshold of this new year with the remembrance that every moment is a chance to wake up again and meet our lives as our sacred partner with whom we can see our true selves reflected back.
Don't go back to sleep. . .
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