Here are some key thematic points, which may provide a direction for your teaching this month. In most cases focusing on just one of these points would be enough material for a class session. Some of the points have very practical physical application while others are presented in a more conceptual approach. I hope you will be able to find at least one thing here that speaks to you and that these suggestions will act as promptings, little nudges to get you going into the endless and exciting adventure of looking deeper into something. Then I wish you well in your ability to articulate to the students who come to you, the insights you have uncovered from your contemplation and research. –with love and blessings, Sharon
THE UNDERLYING MESSAGE:
Basically it is Love. Love. We all want Love. We want to love. We all want to be loved. Real Love. Unconditional Love. Transcendental Love. Cosmic Love. All we need is Love. God is Love. Love will set us free. Through Love you find yourself—the Self.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR OF THE POEM:
Hafiz was a prolific writer and has been translated into many languages. Teachers may want to get a book of Hafiz poems and be inspired by them as I have been. The Hafiz poem in this Focus of the Month essay is taken from a book titled, Love Poems from God, twelve sacred voices from the East and West. It includes poetry by the Sufi poet Hafiz along with eleven others all translated by Daniel Ladinsky. Here is an excerpt from the short biography that Ladinsky includes with the chapter on Hafiz: “Shams-ud-Muhammad Hafiz (c.1320-1389) is the most beloved poet of Persians and is considered to be one of history’s greatest lyrical geniuses. Though he is little known in the western world, many notables including Emerson, Goethe, Garcia Lorca, the composer Brahms and even Nietzsche were deeply affected by him. Hafiz was born Shams-ud-Muhammad but later chose the pen name Hafiz, which means memorizer and denotes a person who knows the entire Quran by heart. Hafiz’s poems contain and reveal all the stages of divine vision, experience, and love. He cloaked these truths in vernacular garb, as was the tradition in Sufi schools at that time since secrecy was often essential in the climate of life-threatening fundamentalism.”
THE GREAT PULL IN US TO CONNECT
As with each Focus of the Month, this essay allows us to expand and venture into areas that we might not normally go, but by going we learn ways to connect the practices of yoga to more and more aspects of our own life (both personal and political). An intelligent person is someone who can make connections. So we increase our intelligence as we stretch our minds each month to incorporate the monthly focus. Hopefully through this process insights will arise as new connections are made in the mind and heart and the expanding of consciousness results. As Hafiz says in the poem, “think about this—this great pull in us to connect.”
Love me are the key words in the Poem. “Love me” is what Hafiz says are the words that everyone wants to say. To understand the meaning of those two words we have to look deeply into those two words. What does “love” mean? What does “me” mean? What is love and who is me?
The teacher may want to focus attention on the moon, in Sanskrit called chandra, and use the FOM to explore various hatha yoga exercises which bring balance to the channels of the HA (sun) and Tha (moon). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika could be a valuable resource here. Ida nadi is the Moon channel—some of the attributes are: feminine, night, yin, mental, cold, intuition, desire, subconscious, internal, passive, parasympathetic nervous system—attributes taken from page 285 of The Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Sw. Muktibodhanada of the Bihar School.
Focusing on the Moon, the teacher could venture into the metaphysical question, what is the language of the moon? What does the moon talk about and to whom? In the poem, Hafiz talks about a person whose eyes are like two full moons that speak sweet moon language.
Hafiz speaks in the poem of the full Moon or purnima in Sanskrit. When something is full it is complete, and in need of nothing.
MOON IN ASANAS
Using the Moon as your theme could lead you to explore asanas and/or asana sequences associated with the moon. Some individual asanas which you may choose to focus on could be: ardha chandrasana (half moon), parivritta ardha chandrasana (rotated half-moon), chakorasana (moonbird), Bhairavasana and Natarajasana (both forms of Shiva, who is a Moon deity). Or another example would be to teach one of the sequences: Moon Rise or Moon Dance both found in the Jivamukti Yoga Book. If you choose to focus in your class on a moon-themed asana or sequence it would be best, if you do choose to go this route, not to simply call out the name of the asana within a vinyasa, but instead to really teach the asana or these sequences: going into detail, preparing the student with warm up asanas and then breaking certain aspects down slowly, investigating alignment, utilizing props or the wall to help get a deeper experience. Then putting it all together again. Don’t be afraid to do a sequence more than once. Taking time to focus thoroughly on one asana or one sequence can allow students to experience a breakthrough, which may not be possible for them if the asana is done quickly without detailed instruction. I would suggest that if you are going to focus on the exploration of an asana that you don’t spend a lot of class time in mentally contemplating theory or philosophy but that you set aside ample time for the actual physical exploration of the asana. In other words get right to it, no need for a long dharma talk at the beginning of class.
The word shaman is made up of two parts: sha=she + man=mind. Many shaman were medicine men, healers who could walk between worlds and shapeshift. In order for a man to be able to assume the position of a shaman he had to expand his gender role away from the testosterone powered normal man and instead incorporate a feminine way of thinking and being, thus his mind became a she-mind or a shaman, enabling him to perceive the world more feelingly and so relate more sensitively. A shaman could be seen as a yogi—one who has joined (yoked) their male and female aspects into one central unified whole.
I do mention Ken Wilber in the Focus of the Month essay. In many of his books he talks about the biological influence of hormones on our behavior and on our relationships with others. He cites testosterone as a potent chemical: “ I don’t mean to be crude, but it appears that testoserone basically has two and only two major drives: fuck it or kill it. And males are saddled with this biological nightmare almost from day one, a nightmare women can barely imagine. Worse, men sometimes fuse and confuse these two drives, with fuck it and kill it dangerously merging, which rarely has happy consequences, as women are more than willing to point out.”—page 4, A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber
Exercise #1 (sitting): Teachers may want to lead an exercise with partners, sitting close but across from each other, looking into each others’ eyes. Instructing the students to practice seeing through the veils of otherness to a level of intimacy and revelation not often available to most of us in our daily lives. Teachers please keep in mind that some students may feel intensely uncomfortable with this exercise. They may express it with nervous laughter, or even with downright inability to maintain a steady commitment to the focus of the exercise. It may also play itself out for some students as a staring contest. The pairing should be as random as possible. Best to leave it to chance. Strangers may be paired together, as well as people who already know each other. It doesn’t really matter. There is an ancient Buddhist saying that goes something like: Everyone you meet has been your mother/lover at some point in another lifetime (if not this one). In truth we are not strangers. The ultimate truth is we are not separate, we are one. But how to get to that evolved level of realization if we first can’t just sit comfortably with one another and connect through, as Hafiz would say, “moon language.”
But what does it mean to connect? What connects us? So the ability to connect is really the practice with the partner exercise. How to do that? It may start with seeing that this other person is also uncomfortable with the exercise. When you see that, you may feel less inclined to be so self-conscience and instead communicate “silent” reassurances to your partner. You begin to see that your partner wants the same things that you do. They don’t want to be judged by you (or anyone); they want you to like them. They want to be acknowledged, not ignored. They don’t want you to feel bored while in their company. Another way to begin to understand connection might start with actually seeing your own face reflected in the pupils of the other, and silently say, as Hafiz instructs, “Love me.” Or you could fall into a contemplation and silently repeat a mantra as if you were speaking to God.
Exercise #2 (asana): Have one partner gaze at the other while the other is involved in an asana like a headstand, visualizing that the person they are gazing at is doing the perfect asana, in other words see the partner as the perfect yogi.
CREATE DIFFERENT VIEWPOINTS:
Teachers may want to arrange the class so that students are facing each other as they practice asana (if space and room configuration allows).
The teacher may suggest to the students to think of a person in their own lives and dedicate the class to them. You could take it a step further and use the words “Love me” or “I love you” like a mantra, coordinating the mantra with the breath practice, surya namaskar or any other part of the class.
As the moon reflects the sun, we all reflect each other, the whole world is a mirror. As mirrors that can be set up in such a way that they reflect each other providing a visual experience of endlessness, the seemingly infinite possibilities of life can be seen as such in the metaphor of the mirrors. Ultimately no matter how you look at it all the reflections come back eventually to the perceiver—as the seer sees, so the seen is seen.
The relationship between student and teacher is a spiritual one. By spiritual I mean that it is focused on identity. The student seeks out a teacher because they want to know who they are. They are looking for help in understanding the confounding complexities of their own personality. They are having an identity crisis. Usually this search starts when the student begins to realize that they may be more than they thought they were or that life may be more than just eating, sleeping, money, sex, marriage, home, job, car, etc. This is why the spiritual path is not for normal people; it is for people who are looking for something more than what is considered survival or sensual gratification. They are at a critical point where they are questioning the existence of such concepts as God and Love. Traditionally the guru provided the student a love object. The guru allowed the student to love them. It was understood between each party that the relationship would be one based on love. The teacher would by their very presence become a focus for the student to pour their feelings into. It was a unique relationship in the fact that there was no sexual gratification or material gain involved. You could say it was a “pure” relationship in that sense. There was nothing that the teacher could give the student but love. “I can’t give you anything but love.” There was nothing that the teacher needed or wanted from the student—other than the student’s happiness or ultimate enlightenment, which is the realization of Love. Love is that which connects us all—it is the ground of being. It is slippery as mercury and cannot be grasped, while at the same time it is attractive, embracing, enveloping, nurturing and constant.
The teacher provides a mirror for the student. The teacher reflects back onto the student who they really are. The teacher reminds the student of God. The teacher reminds the student of who they really are. The teacher is a doorway that the student uses to walk through into the realm of infinite possibilities.
The student was permitted to use the teacher in order to see themselves. The teacher, it was understood, would act as a passive mirror reflecting the student’s outward as well as innermost desires. This is why we hear of many accounts between students and their gurus, where the student says things to the effect that “It was like they saw right through me. There is nothing I can hide from them; I am transparent in their presence. They seem to know everything about me, and yet they still love me, unconditionally.”
OFF THE MAT
The teacher may want to suggest to the student that after they leave the class, whenever they encounter someone, whether walking down the street or wherever, they silently say, using Moon Language, “Love Me.”
Here are some songs I would include on my playlist this month, I realize they are mostly from my 60’s generation but nonetheless, the lyrics really do speak to this month’s focus:
- All You Need is Love (Beatles)
- Higher Love (Donovan, from the album Sutra)
- I’ll be your Mirror (Nico & the Velvet Underground)
- Wild is the Wind (David Bowie from the album Station to Station)
- Love Invincible (Michael Franti, from the album Everyone Deserves Music)
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING:
- Love Poems from God translated by Daniel Ladinsky. This is the book that includes the poem, With That Moon Language; it has other poems by other mystical poets too, including Rumi, St Francis of Assisi, Kabir, St Theresa of Avila, St John of the Cross and Mira.
- The Gift, The Subject Tonight is Love, and I Heard God Laughing; all are poems by Hafiz translated by Daniel Ladinsky.
- Jivamukti Yoga Book by Sharon Gannon & David Life. The asanas and asana sequences I spoke about can be found here.
- A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber. Since I referenced him you may want to check out this book or other books by him.
- A Garland of Forest Flowers by Swami Nirmalananda. Being Love itself is one of Swami’s favorite themes.
- The Essential Yoga Sutra by Geshe Michael Roach & Christie McNally. These two authors are able to find Emptiness (shunyata) in the Yoga Sutra quite nicely.
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Sw. Muktibodhiananda of the Bihar School.