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Steady Eyes, Steady Breath

September 16, 2011
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by Rabbi Chava Bahle

When I was very young (3 years old to be exact), I had a powerful religious vision that culminated in my becoming a rabbi. One of the directives I received in this vision, which occurred the night my brother Robbie died—a completely stressful time for my family—was this:

There are times when everything falls apart, when everything you thought you could count on falls away and it feels like the bottom has fallen out. There are times too when everything is wonderful, everything aligns and every feels easy and joyous. It is the wise person who knows to cultivate a steady heart.

Looking back I believe this was a directive about equanimity, about a non-reactive openness to whatever is happening right now, or what Ronald Seigel, in a nice little book The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems, terms “awareness of the present moment with acceptance.”

One of my favorite parts about practicing yoga is learning to deepen a sense of steadiness—both in working physically on balancing postures, but also psycho-spiritually by how we work those postures.

I set an intention before walking through the door of every class (often it is “Survive! Survive!”), and today’s was “Steady eyes, steady breath.” My intention for the class was to consciously work on keeping my gaze steady in each posture and keeping my breath even and relaxed throughout the class. [I’ll talk in a future blog post in more detail about drishtis—focus points for the eyes—and the religious notion of “custody of the eyes”.] For today, the underlying intention I brought to class was steadiness.

We live in a time of turmoil, the nature of life is constant change, and internally the mind churns away its litany of thoughts. Steadiness, stability, constancy can be helpful heart-qualities when sitting honestly with all that change or that which is unwanted.

Yoga helps us to practice equanimity in a safe, fun (yes we do this for fun, too) environment away from crises and turmoil. This is a huge leg up in spiritual practice: Too often we wait until times of loss and crisis to find the open, steady heart at the center of our being. By working on the quality of equanimity on the mat, we deepen our capacity for centeredness away from mat.

Equanimity doesn’t mean we like everything that is happening. There are some things we should work to change—hate, injustice, the suffering of others—but even with a commitment to work on healing, the process must begin by honestly acknowledging what is happening right here, right now.  Without this ground of honesty and awareness, no change is possible.

Equanimity begins with “yes”.  Saying “yes” to the moment—whether we like it or not. Our teachers often say “Don’t fight the stretch, If you meet resistance pause there, meet it, breathe …” Once we accept where we are, we have the power to create change, and this begins with equanimity. This begins with yes.

Rabbi Chava Bahle lives in rural northwest Michigan, near Traverse City, and travels the country to inspire people of all faiths. She is an ordained rabbi in Jewish Renewal, and an ordained Maggid, a Jewish inspirational preacher and story teller.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 23, 2011 2:50 pm

    “Shift happens” Tess Challis :Radiant Health/Inner Wealth

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