Open to Grace: A Mala


This is the 108th post in this blog, and like the first, I title it “Open to Grace.” The number 108 is auspicious because it is sacred in Hinduism and yoga. For many reasons, the number connotes wholeness. There are 108 beads on a traditional mala, and 108 Sun Salutations in the Global Mala. This post is also auspicious because it’s largely about my first Anusara immersion with Sara Davidson Flanders, about whom I have written before. I find it very interesting that I had met at my first Global Mala at Union Studio Yoga, the one friend of mine who had also gone to this immersion.

I have just a few words about Anusara yoga for those of you just joining us. The “three jewels” of Anusara are its Tantric philosophy, its Universal Principles of Alignment, and its kula or community. The first of these five principles is “Open to Grace.”

On a physical level, Open to Grace causes one to set a firm foundation, to soften and to create space in the body. Psychically and spiritually, it calls us to be receptive and open to possibility, the vast possibility open in every moment.

In advance of the first session, Sara asked us two things: to state what Open to Grace meant to us and to set an intention for the practice. I had spent a lot of time thinking about both, unfortunately when I didn’t have my journal handy, like when I was driving. (Again, Tom Waits’s complaint about the muse, “Go bother Leonard Cohen” is relevant.) What I said during the immersion was something like the following.

Every time I think I know what it means, I have to think again. Or feel again. So in part it means getting out of my head.

I think this is true, and how my life has been speaking to me. I have an unpublished blog post about my adventures with a cleaning my yard from the unexpected Halloween snowstorm we had here in the Northeast. I have been having dreams, that I interpret as having to do with the first principle. Beloved teachers have been telling me, and it has been coming up somatically, in my practice. It’s completely relevant that the first post and this 108th post are titled with the first principle. We keep returning to it. We go deeper each time.

What I was thinking, and should have said, reflects partly on John Friend’s theming for his 2011 tour, “Dancing with the Divine.” He talked about learning ballroom dancing, and then having the opportunity to practice that out at a club with his teacher, when suddenly he was expected to lead. But he talked about Grace as the most excellent dance partner, and how we have to learn to be a “good follow.” So to me, Open to Grace is the moment before the music starts, and you’re about to dance with someone you really want to dance with, and you catch your breath, and there’s that surrender of “away we go.” We don’t care how we look, who’s watching, or how well we’ll do this. We get caught up in the moment, the spirit of the thing, the creative act.

I think this is also related to the intention I set for my practice. When I finally got to visit my beloved former teacher in the rural place where she and her family have now made their home, she talked about inviting a beekeeper to put some hives on her sprawling property. In view of the devastation of Colony Collapse Disorder, I thought that was a pretty responsible thing to do. (I mean, I like blueberries and such.) I told her what a colleague said, when I talked to him about his trying to attract a new swarm. He said it was like inviting a wild animal into your yard. I also thought quite readily of Robert Bly‘s poem “Words Rising“:

We are bees then; our honey is language.

Astute readers know I’m a word guy. As I was writing this to someone, I wrote “inviting wild bees into my heart” instead of “yard,” which was as it should be. One of the words I’ve heard applied to Shiva is “tameless.” As I could only get through the writing of such a huge thing with poetry and metaphor, my intention for my first immersion, then, was to invite wild bees into my heart. This hopefully in order to taste the sweetness of what they make, and so that it might overflow in fullness to others.

Most of all, my immersion was an object lesson to continue to Open to Grace. There are so many other things that keep flowing from the immersion that are likely enough to power many posts to this blog. Last week, the first week after the first module was complete, I would fixate on a word or concept every day or so, meditate on it, and journal about it.

The first module did not bring blinding revelations, but deep, swelling insights and connections, even to the basics of my physical practice. Even in the simplest of poses, there’s always somewhere deeper to go. This was for me so worth doing, and so worth doing now.

Sometimes, if we fail to Open to Grace before invoking some of the other principles, which are perfectly good in sequence, we get stuck. We get stuck on and off the mat. And so in concluding this post, I have become unstuck in this blog, and other writing can now soon follow. May you too, experience the sweetness of Opening to Grace.

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About Richard Hudak

I am Senior Adjunct Faculty in Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and I have been a practitioner of Anusara™ yoga. I have completed 200 hours of teacher training within its diaspora community, consistent with its philosophy and alignment principles.
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8 Responses to Open to Grace: A Mala

  1. hilthethrill says:

    I love the part about Leonard Cohen. My daughter spent her whole year of fifth grade studying bees and pollinators. She could tell you a lot about the collapse of colonies. They put up informational tables at all kinds of town events to teach people about the bees’ situation. The children built a hive at their school, which was amazing and brave since my daughter is allergic to their sting. Epipen in hand, I told her that I had a talk with the bees, and since she was championing their cause, they had agreed to leave her alone. And they have.

  2. Richard Hudak says:

    Kids like her are heroic, and stand to teach us so much. You seem so proud.

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