Yoga came to us here in the West from a highly devotional culture of India where the worship of multiple Deities has been part of people’s lives for many centuries on an everyday basis.
I first learned about Yoga in college from a book by Swami Sivananda and then I found the Integral Yoga Institute here in San Francisco just before the turn of the century. I learned Yoga has much more to it than just physical postures and breathing. The complexity of Yoga and the positive influence that it has had on my life keeps me interested as I continue to learn, share with others and awaken. Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Integral Yoga brought teachings of Yoga and its many practices to the United States a long time ago, before I was even born. Path of Bhakti Yoga and its devotional practices were part of it. Bhakti Yoga is considered the Yoga of the Heart.
How does prayer and worship as traditionally practiced in Yoga translate to a non-Hindu society? After more than 50 years, did it take? Is it possible to participate with full authenticity in devotional rituals that call on Hindu Gods and Goddesses? The kirtan practice, call and response chanting is widely popular here in the Bay Area. This singing of holy names is no less ecstatic than praising the Lord with Gospel music. As we call the names of Hindu deities, can we relate to them more than to the Gods and Goddesses of the old Roman mythology?
These are questions we have to ask ourselves and search our hearts. I believe it is through the authentic expression of spirituality and aligning fully with the Truth as we perceive it, we begin to awaken. We are told by teachers of Yogic lineages that one God will come to us in any form we choose if we are genuine in our faith. There can be a deep resonance with the concepts of Divine attributes associated with these figures of Hindu devotion but is that genuine faith?
As a young woman, I was given a mantra for my meditation practice. Repeating sacred sounds, mantras is a technique used by many around the world. This mantra I received had a name of Hindu deity in it and the word namah. Namah represents the devotional part of the mantra, a salutation and a proclamation of surrender. My meditation developed and the mantra became an intimate companion in my life. After about 7 years of practice, I had a meltdown. I couldn't do it anymore. I felt so much inner conflict. I just wasn't feeling connected to this personification of Divine. I asked for help from a trusted swami, a monk in a yogic tradition. In gratitude, I was given an adjustment to my mantra that was more aligned with my beliefs. I could not adopt the Hindu God with authenticity.
Another aspect of devotion in the eastern world is dedication to a teacher. People love following gurus. This was first known to me by hearing of the Beatles and their exploration of the eastern ways. Why is Guru worship so popular? The Guru is in physical form, tangible and relatable. We are attracted to something we feel and see. Teachers inspire us and kindle our aspirations. There are holy men and women in many different traditions, a fact which seems to cross the boundaries of cultures. This type of loving devotion can get dangerous and derail our rationale and even have us vulnerable to manipulation. It has become known that many spiritual teachers, priests or gurus have exploited their communities financially or even sexually. When you mix devotion, love, and sex, you can get a pretty powerful cocktail that can have a lasting imprint on the victims of such abuse of power. I have learned that my primary yoga master Swami Satchidananda has done so as well. Multiple women came forward with reports of their sexual involvement with this supposedly celibate holy man. Now even though Swami Satchidananda’s disciples know, many continue to see him as no less than Divine. Many continue to worship him regardless of his hidden shadow life, regardless of the lies and betrayals. They worship him in recognition of the Light they saw in him and in gratitude for all the gifts they received. Is that ok? There is sweetness in the act of worship itself and any act of truly felt devotion has power.
Opening the heart, loving, expressing affection is undeniably an important part of spiritual life. How can we express that authentically and in harmony with yogic teachings of the east? Let’s find what makes our hearts sing.
I recently had an interesting conversation with two of our neighbors as we ran into each other on the beach. Our dogs are friends and we walked together. It was a lovely and spontaneous exchange of experiential knowledge. The topic was releasing tension from the body.
They have explored releasing tension through body work, acupuncture and eventually arrived at energetic release through touch. We talked about the build up in fascia and muscles resulting in limited movement of the joints and how miraculously the energy healing can reduce this very tangible physical tension.
In Yoga we speak of the different layers of our Being; physical, energetic, mental and further the layer of the bliss body and the individual soul.
We hold patterns of tension and it shows up on all of these levels. In the body, it can be habitual tensing of the jaw or shoulders. We hold patterns of tension in our breathing, not exhaling enough or holding the breath. On an energetic level, the flow of the energy slows down or becomes stagnant in certain areas of our body. On the mental level, the tension shows up as rigid thinking, ceaseless ruminations and resentments, feeling stuck or irritated. All of these are examples of contracting rather than opening.
The Taittiriya Upanishad was the first ancient text to discuss these different layers (koshas) of our body and became a module for healing in contemporary Yoga Therapy. Vedanta tells us these layers are interconnected and part of one Self.
We can cultivate the ability to let go. As we let go and release tension on one level, all the layers of our Being respond. We can feel the sense of ease and joy and connect with intuition, the whisper of our soul. We start to feel the soul purpose, the big reason why we are here. It allows us to align with the truest expression of who we are.
My favorite practice has been working with the breath and truly letting my breath have the freedom to move. The ancient practice of ajapa japa using the So-Hum mantra has been helping my breath to recover from habitual patterns of tension. Essentially, this mantra means, “I am That”—I am pure awareness or consciousness. I can feel the energy awakening in my body by having an increased sensation in different parts of my body and a sense of openness. Cultivation of mindfulness has allowed me to have the ability to recognise these subtle shifts in my body and furthered my ability to let go.
Mindfulness, Sati, described as 'bare attention' and Dharana, “one-pointed attention”, both teach us how to focus our attention on the present and experience life in more depth.
Meditation has been such a big part of my life and yet the mental work alone is not enough. We know that trauma lives in the body and that one cannot think oneself out of anxiety. The body needs to be a part of the healing process and releasing tension is a big step in healing.
It was so nice to explore this topic with someone who doesn’t know that yoga is a complex array of practices but only as a physical exercise where one is following a certain set of postures.
She said: “My Love”
She held me tenderly
I held on so tight worried she would leave
She kissed me on my lips so light
and I knew she would stay.
I can rest now.
I can dive into this crazy life.
I can cross the bridges.
Her loving can heal my injured soul.
Her loving puts a smile on my face.
She is to stay.
But wait, who is she?
Has she been with me all this time?
by Diana Meltsner 2/8/21
image: Moon's daughter by Seb Mckinnon
It has been quite a few months since I learned that my primary Yoga teacher and founder of the Integral Yoga organization was not all that I thought, not the Holy man as I imagined him to be but a brilliant spiritual teacher with personal desires he did not resist.
I took time to process. Overcoming the doubt and listening to the voices of the women, I went through a period of re-triggered trauma from my past. I felt it all. I anguished over how women deserve better than the current society gives them. We deserve better than being treated like disposable pleasure objects. The upset slowly turned into grieving. The sadness of losing my ideal, my dream vision of a teacher whose teachings have guided me for the past 25 years like a rudder on my journey through life.
His teachings so clearly described an influencing force beyond an individual personality guiding us all. I have learned to trust that inner voice even more now. All anyone can really do for us is to point the direction in which to head. To acknowledge this independence and personal responsibility feels like growing up.
"I am always ready to help you. My sympathies are ever with you. I will radiate joy, peace and thought currents of love towards you. I will inspire you, but I cannot do the work for you. You yourself will have to do the work. The struggle and exertion must come from your side.” - Swami Sivananda
I recently had a powerful dream with Swami Satchidananda. I had my first dream with him when I was only 19, living in a freshly democratic post-communist Czech Republic. He taught me a Sanskrit chant before I knew there was Yoga or the Sanskrit language.
In this new dream just a couple weeks ago, he was in a new body of a young man. We spoke a little. I told him I missed his beard and he showed me his whiskers that are starting to grow under his jaw, not thick enough to grow a beard yet. I was lucid enough to remember my current life. I have been coordinating the San Francisco Integral Yoga teachers in writing a statement, finding a collective voice to share our concerns for the Integral Yoga organization and community which we all love. It was a gentle and loving request to the authorities for transparency, acknowledgment and open communication about the future. Remembering all that in my dream, nevertheless I felt fully accepted. Swami Satchidananda told me that he holds space for me among his most beloved. I cried and cried until I woke up. I felt so happy for this youth with this wonderful soul as he was just starting out his life. I wonder, will I meet him again before I die? I could recognize him. It is said that the bond between the teacher and student in Yoga continues on. I feel that to be true.
How can my heart/mind love and cherish a person and also be disappointed and appalled by their behavior?
Can I really understand? I have had a brush of experience with the luminous awareness and Divine presence. I understand that our "knowing" is just an approximation of the Real. Our mental perception of Truth is like squeezing the whole universe into the eye of a needle. We have to bear this human condition as best we can, mine, yours and our teacher's. I’m learning to rest in my heart and let compassion be my guide.
I acknowledge the pain and harm that Swami Satchidananda’s behavior has caused to many of the women he sexually interacted with and the harm done within our community by denying the truth or covering it up. I also acknowledge the Light and healing that he has brought into our lives. Holding both of these points of view at the same time in all honesty also feels like growing up
This Magnificent Refuge
This magnificent refuge is inside you.
Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway.
Be bold. Be humble.
Put away the incense
and forget the incantations they taught you.
Ask no permission from the authorities.
Close your eyes and follow your breath
to the still place that leads
to the invisible path
that leads you home.
by Theresa of Avila
friends, their generosity and obsessions,
children’s joy, their eyes filled with wonder,
the hurt and disappointment, mine and yours.
I see the pain of unreconciled differences
hanging over us like dark clouds,
doors close quickly and words disappear.
I see the pain of unwelcome gifts.
Receiving in awkward silence things, care, harm
you meant for me to have.
Turning towards the Light,
I can see the pain of holding on to what no longer is,
the good and bad.
Like trying to wear old clothes that no longer fit
How does one live with memories?
How does one let this pain pass through?
How does one move with changing seasons?
Fall turning into the winter while remembering
the warmth of the sun, or remembering
those simple times before the fire came
and devoured it all.
I look at it and smile,
like seeing an old friend
I used to spend a lot of time with.
I choose to peel away a little from
this familiar pain.
The heaviness starts washing away,
eventually it dissipates.
I feel the fresh air and I hear myself sigh.
My body starts moving again.
We are all making it through,
bringing Light into darkness.
The clenching softens,
dawn’s cleansing power enters in.
The wild call comes as
the Soul shines through again so
hungry for life, taking us for a dance
As we move to this new year and consider our resolutions and invite new into our lives, it is helpful to reconcile the old, that which holds us in the tight grasp of the past.
"It is never too late for any of us to look at our minds. We can always sit down and allow the space for anything to arise. Sometimes we have a shocking experience of ourselves. Sometimes we try to hide. Sometimes we have a surprising experience of ourselves. Often we get carried away. Without judging, without buying into likes and dislikes, we can always encourage ourselves to just be here again and again and again." ~ Pema Chödron
Swami Satchidananda has been my guru for over 20 years. I have had my share of personal and "non-ordinary reality" experiences with him. I have felt guided by him. I owe my gratitude to Integral Yoga for holding space for my spiritual development and I strongly believe that is still happening regardless of its founder's, Swami Satchidananda's past. My hope is that the teachings of Integral Yoga thrive and support many people on their path in the years to come.
Many of you have heard the allegations regarding Swami Satchidananda being in sexual relationships or proposing such to women. He denied this when he was still alive. There are women who are coming forward now with their personal stories of having been in sexual relationships with him. I have no reason to deny their message. I acknowledge the truth. Some had a loving and caring experience and some were deeply hurt. There is no doubt there was an enormous imbalance in power in these relationships and encounters even though they were to my knowledge consensual. It is this abuse of power and the cover up of truth that I find most troubling.
There has been a lot of anger among people in the community due to the women being silenced or shamed for coming forward with their stories, now and in the past. This information is very difficult for many to process and the reaction to hearing it varies greatly. There is no longer space amongst us for comfortable denial.
What does that mean to me personally? I moved from viewing Swami Satchidananda as a saint and a Guru to seeing him as a brilliant teacher with access to the inner world of Light and Love with highly developed psychic powers and at the same time being deeply, humanly flawed. Nevertheless, the teachings he shared with us are timeless, valid and powerful. In my heart I am glad Swami Satchidananda has been part of my path and at the same time I feel betrayed. My experiences of his guidance have been so powerful. Yet, over the course of many years, the guidance has not been coming exclusively from him. The guidance is within and comes in different forms.
In my case, contemplating this brought forth old traumas which I had to process in order to be able to move forward. It took me months to detangle my personal traumas from this. In a strange way, I am relieved now of the burden I carried for so long since my late teens. I am grateful to have married a man who has always been kind and respectful in these ways.
I see this time as an opportunity for healing. Acknowledgement and acceptance are the first steps. Reconciling the memories and making peace with the past are powerful tools that help us maintain a peaceful and loving existence. Self compassion is so important while seeing and allowing the thoughts, memories and emotions to emerge as well as finding support. As we foster healing in ourselves, we also heal collectively.
May we all find kindness and compassion in our heart
May our word be kind and truthful
My our minds be clear and peaceful
May the Light of Truth overcome all darkness
Door in the Sky
The other day a door in the sky appeared
as I lay on the beach watching the clouds taking shapes.
There was a rabbit prancing by.
The door opened.
I soared up like an eagle and entered
this mystery, a door to the other side of the sky
where the bridges lead to many places and timelines.
I stayed for a while visiting, just like a walk
through the garden with many
flowers to love, I was in awe.
"What do people think spiritual development is? It’s not lights and trumpets. It’s very simple. It’s right here and now. People have this idea that Enlightenment and realization is something in the distance - a very fantastic and magnificent happening which will transform everything once and for always. But it’s not like that at all. It’s something which is sometimes so simple you hardly see it. It’s right here in front of us, so close we don’t notice it. And it’s something which can happen at any moment. And the moment we see it, there it is. It’s been there all the time, but we’ve had our inner eye closed. When the moments of awareness all link up - then we become a Buddha. "
~Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
Love and joy
Darkness and sorrow
Thread by thread
Now the blue one now the gray
Dreams and images
Fantasies and realities
Thread by thread
Now the gold one and now the black
Each thought each feeling
Every wish and every complaint
Thread by thread
The tapestry of life
the magic of weaving
Is the fabric smooth?
What does it look like?
Is it dark? Is it light?
Now the silver one and now one of Light
Words of friends, words of teachers
Words of the enemy, words of me.
Thread by thread
The dream weaving of Real.
Watch the thread going in.
Choose the fabric of Life
Weave it from the sunlight and
the moon light
and starlight and delight
Thread by thread
And so I stand here.
People wait their turn, fill
out forms, check boxes,
all trying to understand the rules.
And there are the ones that help
to pass a pencil here, a clipboard there.
Maybe, they know something.
I step into the shaft of pure Light
pouring over me like
a Christmas tree giving a present.
Right there in the middle of the waiting room,
in front of everyone.
And no one joins in.
No one even sees.
I wonder...isn’t this why they
wait here and fill these forms, listen for
their number to be called?
Oh the delight of this
brilliant pure Light.
No one steps in.
So I silently help them dot
the i(s) and cross the t(s),
so intent on perfection,
beautiful handwriting, perfectly designed forms.
I watch them in the waiting room,
Now the anticipation starts to grow,
Silence replaced with murmur and rustling.
The makeup goes on, and someone
is wearing just the perfect shade of blue!
The musician plays yet another amazing tune.
I stand here watching.
Now the atmosphere changes,
I am told I do not get it,
the importance of it all!
The One, the teacher that knows,
He is coming.
Let’s look the best, sound the best!
Only the best for Him.
The Night goes on and nothing.
I glance at a treasured picture of the One.
Not even on the upper floor,
he is nowhere.
The distress is in the air.
What a predicament.
People gather and speak of solutions.
Nobody is leaving.
As the thrill fades,
a sense of gloom replaces it. Confused eyes
looking all around
Then looking down.
Enough of watching.
I wonder… would two or three
come with me,
ready to move on,
ready to greet the Dawn?
I raise my hand and offer
“Would anyone like to get out of here?”
Oh the stares I get,
And so I go.
Such delight to move freely.
The trees are tall, lining an open road.
Air brushing against my skin,
The whole landscape filled with Light,
And somewhere, in the distance, their voices
echo in importance.
Recently I have been asked to describe myself using a fictional character. Could you describe yourself as a fictional character? I had trouble with that. How do I see myself? What character describes how others see me?
I remembered how fascinated I was with the character of the Little Mermaid in my childhood, not the Disney version but the one from the original story by Hans Christian Andersen. A happy mermaid who wishes to see the world, saves a prince from certain death as his ship sinks in the storm and falls in love with him. A beautiful girl with fins, scales and a mesmerizing voice who lives under the sea ends up sacrificing so much to pursue love. She strikes a bargain with a sea witch giving up her voice for a pair of legs. She sacrifices her voice, her home, and her family for the ability to live among humans. The new legs ended up not working so well and left bloody marks on the sand as she walked those first steps out of the ocean. We know how the story goes: the prince marries another. The ex-mermaid turned into a mute frail human girl, who couldn't return back home. She no longer had the body capable of living under the sea. She walked into the ocean anyway and turned into seafoam.
She risked so much for love. What a sacrifice! Have you ever sacrificed your voice in the name of love? Have you ever ended up “on that beach” after living your story that ended badly? Have you felt so broken like nothing seemed to be left as if you just dissolved into seafoam?
We all do things for love, for this frail human love, sometimes obsessive love that doesn't last. I sacrificed for love in my life. I moved away from my family and came to this country for love. I sacrificed my career for love. I had to learn new ways of expressing myself with words in English. Yes, that was hard and yet I would do it again. I was fortunate to be guided by a strong sense of intuition. Even though my story doesn't end with me losing my life and turning into seafoam, I can relate to that ending. There have definitely been times in my life when it felt as if I’d completely dissolved and nothing was left after my hopes and beliefs were shattered. I had to let go, dissolve and start anew like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. I think most of us go through several cycles of this type of rebirth within one lifetime.
Something about that story is still having a strong effect on me.
What is healthy sacrifice, what is unhealthy sacrifice? Do we know our choices are going to hurt us and yet do it anyway? Is it sacrifice or self-harm? Where is that line between looking for love and looking to satisfy one's desires and addictions? Where's the line trusting our steps for a brighter future and when are we just escaping an old situation regardless of the consequences?
We can take this attitude with our spiritual practice. We go for it, making adjustments, sacrifices to our lives and lifestyles. In the name of running towards the Light and Love, we are running away from our own problems, with the illusion that we will be able to find something that will miraculously help us to transcend all pain. In our pursuit, we can lose track of what is healthy and what is harmful. We might blindly follow a spiritual teacher who gives us so much. We can be blinded by the radiance and the power of teachings being shared with us. What if we find out our teacher has caused harm to us? We can lose sight in the name of spirituality becoming preoccupied by running towards self fulfillment and bypassing what is right in front of us.
We have to ask the hard questions: Does this serve me, others and humanity? Am I lost in narcissistic self involvement, that never ending self improvement project? Is my pursuit of fulfillment a distraction, running away from reality?
We need to know if we are justifying harm or indifference to harm in the name of some greater good and if we need course adjustment or simply need to stop running.
The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.