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When the mind is still we see ourselves as we truly are

By Ellen Arthur.

Do you experience yourself being confused, conflicted, unsure or doubtful? Perhaps not all day every day, but often enough that it causes disruptions in your life? I was under the impression that once I started practicing yoga these distracted, dull thoughts of mine would disappear. Right?!

When we are in this state of dullness or confusion and we attempt to make decisions from that place, our own mind loses faith in its conviction and begins to turn on itself. Loss of faith in one’s own mind leaves us feeling mistrustful and defeated, and as a consequence we begin to lose faith in the world around us. This unfolds as thinking “the world is against me”, not wanting to socialise, fear of decision making, questioning why everything bad happens to us and forgetting our truest nature, which is one of sublime peace, ease, power and purpose. 

What the yoga tradition says about doubt is that it can single-handedly derail our pursuit of spiritual illumination. Doubt, confusion and uncertainty are some of our biggest hurdles on the path of self-discovery. These qualities arise out of a clouded, unstable mind. A mind that is easily distracted and pulled in whatever direction the senses, manas (reactive mind), the ahamkara (i-maker or ego) and citta (storehouse of memories) decide. 

How do we pull ourselves out of this predicament?

It is essential to learn how to still the fluctuations of the mind, to settle into a single-pointed focus so that clarity and clear vision (viveka) arise. Only once the mind is still, are we able to see its potential, and that is, to be used as an instrument for liberation (moska), connection back to source and remembering ones highest purpose (mahad).

Take the meditation Still lake of the mind, it gives us the clarity and the vision to peer into the still and tranquil nature of the mind. Once we taste that depth of mental ease and stillness, we begin to crave it (in a very positive way – creating positive samskaras). The more we access and rest in that space of stillness and silence, the more our mind merges with that state making it less likely that we dwell and ruminate in our fear and doubt. 

Abhyasa and Vairagya

Our practices act as a spotlight, a device we can use to illuminate parts of the mind that have for many years been steeped in darkness, habit and fear. Through consistent and intelligent practice (abhyasa) and a great amount of surrender/non-attachment (vairagya) we are able to see the tendencies of confusion, doubt and fear, see them for what they are, outdated mental constructs that cripple our momentum forward in life. Through compassion, practice and a desire to evolve we are able to liberate said constructs and turn that dormant energy into something positive. 

Ultimately where our practices have the ability to take us is into a space where even during hardship and challenge, doubt and fear, we can remember and access a still and stable mind. From that stability our mind becomes quiet, introspective, observant and peaceful.

We notice that our minds are in-fact pure consciousness itself, perfectly constructed instruments to guide us back home, back to source. 

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Faith and Devotion

by Ellen Arthur.

I’ve always been very devoted. As a child I remember sitting in the church pews, head bowed in respect and honour, holy communion, eulogies, older people hugging and kissing you saying how much you had grown. We were a devoted family, to community, tradition and faith. Then came school and my friends, relationships and work, all with their own kind of devotion.

Throughout our lives faith is present, in many ways it is what binds one moment to the next, one thought to another. Faith and devotion are often spoken about together. With faith comes devotion, when we have faith, the devotion we need in order to commit to something is taken very seriously, our spiritual evolution depends upon our faith and devotion.

As soon as I was exposed to mantra I knew it was something worth exploring. I connected instantly and deeply with its purity and the way it somehow (magically) fulfilled me. It was as if I was being summoned, mantra was an elixir, a clear voice guiding me down a path I recognised, the path of devotion.

This path of yoga is called Bhakti Yoga and it comprises many different aspects of devotion from the gross to the subtle, from the outwardly expressive to the internal and silent. To western yogi’s, Bhakti yoga is synonymous with Kirtan, but it is so much more. This path is all about devoting oneself to seeing God everywhere, listening to scriptures, meditating upon and acting in service of God.

True Bhakti Yoga or true Bhaktas (those who practice Bhakti Yoga) see God as a personified form, something the devotee can relate to like a mother, a father, a sister. That way the devotion can be sent directly to God or to divine love.

Our true self can only find fulfilment once it has merged with divine love. How do we do this? It is said this union is made possible through the gateway of the heart. If practice is persistent and earnest the portal of the heart opens us to an all pervasive universe that connects us both physically, energetically and spiritually to an inner knowing, to the big idea of life, of dharma. Here the development of sweetness and devotion unfolds.

To invite this sweetness in, it is best to surround yourself with people who sing to God, pray to God and devote themselves to the divine, because naturally and overtime our own hearts begin to blossom. True devotees have hearts like flowers, they are constantly pointing their hearts and their devotion toward the sun, toward Source. This then, enriches and sustains their very lives. Increasing their level of faith and their ability to draw more and more abundance toward them and those around them.

Bhakti Yoga is said to be one of the most accessible forms of yoga due to its simple requirement of opening the heart to God. However this simplicity can be misleading. Throughout our lives we have developed many preferences, opinions and ideas about ourselves and the world. Which in turn begins to hardened the wall around our hearts making the journey toward that sacred place turbulent. Our ego can persist and deny our entry, our fears and doubts can halt our expedition. So the message is to go simply and to go sweetly. To remain the witness, the curious traveller. To honour emotion and any discomfort as new territory, new terrain for you to explore. Over time and very subtly our hard exterior begins to soften.

For some of us this softening takes months, for others years, and for most of us decades, even life times. Don’t let this deter you, we must remember that it is not the pace of our awakening that determines our “success” but our dedication and unwavering commitment to showing up for ourselves again and again. For the sake of clearing and cleaning the heart and living from that place of compassion and divine love. Let your prayers be simple and humble. May we pray that the grace of devotion touches our lives and purifies our hearts.

The heart is limitless and, because it has no form, it can contain totality.” – Ramana Maharshi

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The Source of Your Fear

by Ellen Arthur.

The river of spirituality must have love and devotion woven into its flow. Without this inner experience of reverence and sweetness our practices become fruitless and we lose interest. Practice wholeheartedly, unattached to the outcome is something to be done on a daily basis. What I know to be true is that no one else can work with our mind for us, no teacher or therapist can clean our mind of confusion and make it one-pointed. Even the scriptures say “light your own lamp, no one else can give you enlightenment”. This implies that we are our own guides, our own teachers.

As I practice, both my physical teacher and my inner teacher ask that I dive deeper, into the realms of mind and habit. What I am continuously coming up against are my insecurities and doubts. Some days they are little ripples upon a quiet lake, other days they are all consuming waves of emotion which overwhelm my ability to see clearly. Within these emotions, whether they create large waves or small ripples is fear. Fear is what stifles our growth, keeps us living small and is the source of all our pain and suffering.

This is where yoga steeped in knowledge and Tradition comes in. The intention of the practices are to aid in deep healing and inner transformation. It asks us very specifically to analyse the source of our fear. The judgements, anxieties and resentments and get to the root of them. Only once we acknowledge the source of our fears are we able to liberate them.

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, says that we should contemplate two main themes. The first is to be careful of fear and doubt. These qualities are like an army of termites chewing away at our foundation and causing the entire structure of spirituality to collapse. The second theme centres around ego. Our greatest enemy. It is in charge of emotions such as anger, hatred, jealousy, greed and the desire for revenge. Every one of these emotional enemies cause great destruction both internally and externally

In my analysis I have come up with this question, why do patterns repeat themselves? Patterns of self sabotage, unworthiness and confusion. Until recently I never knew to ask these questions or realise that they had remedies. Now that my current practices are informed by contemplation and self analysis. I am beginning to notice incremental shifts through practices such as mantra japa, emphasis on self compassion, self love and also techniques that guide us toward releasing negativity. I can viscerally and mentally feel the transformation talking place within my consciousness. I am less reactive, less driven by egotistical desires and more interested in moving toward things, people and places that inspire, excite and enable me to grow in happiness and unconditional love.

Not wanting to diminish the challenges faced coming up against the lower mind. I try to remember that what I am going through is a process of healing. Of moving away from fear and guiding myself toward love. A process that requires trust, compassion and the permission to heal. To acknowledge our negative and harmful traits and have the tools and support to gracefully move beyond them.

Blessed are we with the grace of the inner teacher, to be able to move through life in this human form, with a mind that is able to discern, decide and act. However, the great Yogis realised it’s not enough. It is important that we expose ourselves to the other three forms of grace.
Grace from the scriptures, revealed knowledge, The Grace of God,
and the sweet, nurturing Grace of the Guru.

With these four forms of Grace, really nothing can stand in the way of our liberation, our desire to evolve and meet the higher Self, the all knowing one, where we are reunited with our Soul.

All we can do is practice in an informed and honest way. To be easeful in our approach to our own wounds and desire to heal. To remember that the source of our fear is the very thing that CAN liberate us from all ignorance and suffering.

All blessings,
Elle

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Practice as Seva

by Ellen Arthur.

Why do we practice? What keeps us coming back? The reason we practice anything, whether its yoga, a language, a sport, is so that our knowledge of that thing deepens. Our thirst for understanding propels our desire to practice.

These questions were never something I considered when I first met the mat. It wasn’t so much of a conscious decision to return to practice as it was a deep visceral desire to feel good and to evolve. To feel that through practice I was able to connect to something beyond the bazaar world my mind usually dwelled in. The mind (my mind, your mind) is a tool. We can use it to enhance the way we view the world (Worldview – Santali) or we can use it to destroy and destruct. For a long time I didn’t know I had a choice, I just resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be at the mercy of the mind forever!!

It is an assumption to say, but for the most part, we practice firstly for ourselves. To make ourselves feel more energetically rich, strong, healthy and attuned to the environment around us, making us more connected and conscious of our actions. In order to progress along any path, this step is essential. To feel good within our own skin, to find love for ourselves first.

Then something magical happens. The lens of our practice starts to shift. We begin to realise that by healing ourselves we inadvertently begin to heal those around us. Our devotion, our discipline, our capacity to feel and engaged from a deeper pool of emotions has a ripple affect. After all… isn’t that why we are here? To be of service to each other and therefore to be of service to the world?

In Yoga we have a word that embodies this concept. This word in Sanskrit is Seva; having an interest in the well-being of others as well as oneself. Service gives us the opportunity to lose the concept of “self” that we have programmed/created so that we can offer our time selflessly to others.

Serving others is considered a great siddhi, a great power. In order to serve others we must confront very real and impressionable thoughts and ideas that we have about ourselves and the world. Service asks us to renounce our own selfish desires and needs. This can be quite a hurdle to overcome. Through the practice of Seva we are able to see quite clearly where our patterns and conditions arise from. Ultimately the things that we unconsciously repeat, whether they are thoughts, actions or addictions, are the very things that keep us stuck and habitual.

Karma Yoga, meaning deed or action, refers to the law of cause and effect. The idea is that every action leads to a reasonable result – and that everything that happens can be traced back to something done in the past. Actions determine destiny, this is the basis of Karma Yoga. We reap what we sow.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that we must work not for our own sake but for the welfare of all. Pointing out that this is the basic law underlying all of creation. That each being must do their part in the grand scheme of life.

Krishna tells Arjuna, “we must perform our duties without attachment to their fruit or outcome. We must act in a selfless spirit, without ego-involvement and without getting entangled in whether things work out the way we want; only then will we not fall into the terrible net of Karma”.

Arjuna asks Krishna, what powers bind us to our selfish ways? Even when we want to act rightly, often we do the wrong thing. What power moves us?
Krishna replies… “Anger and selfish desire are our greatest enemies. They are the destructive powers that can compel us to wander away from our purpose, to end up in self delusion and despair”.

So as you can see, this is not an easy task to undertake when we are confronted by our biggest hurdles and demons in the process of serving others. This is why our practice and what we practice is so essential. Practices that amplify our demons, struggles and our ego will obviously take us further and further down the path of self destruction. Whereas practices that soften us, humble us, connect us to our hearts and challenge us mentally give us strength to walk the path of purpose, the path of Dharma.

To be of service is to ask the questions… When I do something, why do I expect something in return? Why do I think the world owes me? What am I trying to gain by giving to others? What am I trying to fulfil or suppress?

Practice brings self inquiry, and through this we are able to ask the harder, deeper questions. Our capacity to look at our darkness, our greed, without judgement or reaction based on habit, is what allows us to progress and overcome selfish tendencies.

When was the last time you really considered the impact your practice is having on you and the world around you? When was the last time you did something without attachment to individual gain? What would that look like for you? How would that feel? I encourage you to use the science of yoga as a way to deeply connect with your truest nature so that in turn you are able to share and be of service to the world and those around you.

I will leave you with this from Krishna…

“Fulfil all your duties; action is better than inaction. Even to maintain your body Arjuna you are obliged to act. Selfish action imprisons the world. Act selflessly without any thought of personal gain”.

Many blessings to you,
Namaste,
Elle

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Remembering Mantra

by Ellen Arthur.

Mantra is unique, as in, unlike anything else.. and I couldn’t think of a better way of describing the magic that is mantra, chanting and kirtan. All of these three definitions express different ways of using mantra in order to heal, inspire or awaken dormant energies within our very own bodies and mind.

For me, it all began in a modest little yoga shala, in Canggu, Bali years ago, where my teacher (Octavio) lead us through a mantra that would, unbeknownst to me at the time, change my life forever. That mantra was Om Asatoma. A peace mantra that takes us away from the false, illusion filled patterns of life and leads us toward our truth, moves us from the misunderstanding of our “darkness” and guides us to our light, and lastly transforms us from our fear of death and allows us to perceive ourselves as immortal, as beings who never die. Ultimately asking us to become the most embodied and empowered version of ourselves possible. To say that this Yoga Teacher Training changed my life is an understatement.

It took me at least a year to remember that time in Bali when I was exposed to Mantra, and once I remembered, I haven’t stopped chanting, sharing and singing since. I believe that the practice of mantra and self-discovery shows up when you need it the most, when you are ready for a transformative shift to take place. Be warned, that a committed mantra practice will, without a doubt revolutionise the way you perceive not only yourself, but the very world that you are a part of.
At that time, I wasn’t ready for my life to change, there were still a few weeds that needed to be removed and a few past experiences that needed to be revisited so that I could make peace with them. Hence why it took a solid year for me to recall the power of mantra, and specifically Om Asatoma. (Let me be clear, I still have a lot of weeds and overgrown terrain that I am constantly working on, but each day the garden of my life looks a little tidier and somewhat less chaotic.)

As a daily practice along with asana, mediation and pranayama, I would utilise the momentum (the momentum is the fact that these mantras have been used and chanted for thousands of years, in ceremonial practices, so that alone amplifies its impact and its magnetic pull) and the power of this mantra to help relieve my suffering, my ignorance and my self sabotage. After some time marinating in my own mantra practice, the need to share was overwhelming. I began to share mantra with my students in classes and also sharing through regular community kirtans.
Kirtan is typically accompanied with narrating or story telling and then chanting mantra melodically, usually in a call and response manner. I have been lucky enough to be able to see first hand the beauty and the reach of mantra. My students and community would often say to me that mantra feels familiar, like an old friend, even if you’re new to the practice. Technically as a species we have been singing, celebrating and purging our troubles through ceremony, dance and ritual since the beginning of time. So no wonder mantra feels nostalgic and sentimental.

Through Mantra in the Hindu and Buddhism traditions we chant to the gods, deities, figure heads and higher beings with the belief and the understanding that these Gods and Goddesses aren’t outside of ourselves. In fact they represent the very nature of our being, showcasing our vast array of human qualities and emotions. These qualities include, strength, will power, determination, compassion, unconditional love and having the courage to over come our many hurdles/obstacles/heartbreaks. Always changing and evolving, our nature can sometimes be loving and passive, and in some circumstances we need to be more assertive and direct. In these times of shift and transformation mantra can be used as a tool to keep our two feet firmly planted on the ground, to bind us to the infinite possibilities within the present moment. We were designed to awaken, to thrive and to understand that beyond the rollercoaster of everyday life and emotion, there is a part of ourselves that is calm and at peace. Mantra speaks to that very part of ourselves that is beyond form, religion, gender, political views and social construct. When we chant we are liberated, and the heart is directly pierced and touched ever so sweetly.
For me, it’s a real sense of relief knowing that there is mantra, and where there is mantra there is a deity to call upon in times of need. In these times of despair, mantra becomes an incredible ally. Over time and dedicated repetition, mantra helps guide us away from negativity or uncertainty and points us in the direction of rebuilding our inner reservoir of contentment that comes from self-fulfilment, not from an external source, but right within your own heart.

I can happily say that asana is a big part of my daily practice but it is through daily repetitions of the names, that has bought about the biggest transformations in my life. The commitment to a practice that enables me to connect to something bigger than “I”, bigger than “me” has given “me” great perspective on my life, my purpose and overall happiness. I see myself as a fully formed reflection of the divine… I am and you are perfect, nothing needs to be fixed or manipulated, we are enough exactly as we are. Asana (as incredible as it is) can only take us so far along this winding road that is the spiritual path. It wasn’t until mantra and sharing mantra through Kirtan – community Satsang – that my yoga/my life truly started to shine.

It has been through sitting in contemplating and reverie, and using mantra as the metaphorical gateway, that has offered me this beautiful uncovering of self and the constant discovery of how magnificent life truly is.

Namaste,
Elle