by Minerva Arias
Love is the real guru. Guru means remover of darkness. Love is the real remover of darkness.
Sometimes, in the midst of heartbreak and pain, it is so hard for us to see anything else. It can be hard to see past the darkness, the shadows, and the void of light. And in the midst of what felt like the annihilation of my heart, I had two options: I could stew in the darkness or I could offer myself love.
I choose love, because I had experienced love, because I knew what it felt like. I knew how liberating it was to heal myself, to sit with the pain and offer it love. You see, loving someone, the way I loved my guru, allowed me to be free. In love, I had freedom. Freedom to be vulnerable and develop a genuine, deep, pure love. And with that came a very deep sense of self-love, self-acknowledgement and self-acceptance. It allowed me to look at my own darkness with kindness and light. It allowed me to sit with it, embrace it,
My ever-evolving journey started off with me first peeling off the layer of guilt of putting myself first. Next, I had to peel off the layer that told me that any act of self-love had to involve acts that were supposed to be for others. I had to then peal away the years and years of trauma done to my body by its constant sexualization and policing by my brothers, my sisters and the world at large. Moving past the body politics then comes the work of understanding our value when it is not connected to how we look. Working through these layers requires practicing so much self-love and a rewiring of our thought and behavioral patterns that sometimes we need to step away from everything and retreat into ourselves.
How self-indulgent that sounds! Yes, I know and I do not see anything wrong with this. Again, we are fed this story that this is selfish to our emotional, mental and physical well being first; but taking the time to do the work of loving myself is the biggest gift I have to offer anyone. We live in a society that tells us to be indulgent but never self-indulgent. We are fed this idea that Things give us value, that Things fix us, that Things make everything better. But all it really does is create more clutter in which we need to filter through in order to see our True selves. How many of us look in the mirror and look at ourselves? No, I don’t mean look at how we physically look. I mean how often do we look into our eyes with the same kind of love and softness we look into the eyes of a lover, a child, a parent? So often we close off our hearts in exactly the moments we need them to stay open, which makes looking at ourselves sometimes difficult and sometimes painful. We search for the easy fixes to all the messages we receive that kind of destroy the essence of our true Selves.
While everyone’s journey is different, I do think there are some things that should/must be done. Spend some time in front of the mirror, naked, and listen to how you talk to yourself. Make sure you are offering yourself tender loving kindness. Tell yourself that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the hair you were born with, there is nothing wrong with the color of your skin, no matter what shade it is. It doesn’t matter what kind of accent you have or where you were born, our ancestors live through us regardless.
Find an outlet, be it dancing, singing, boxing, walking, whatever works for you. Get a journal and start writing to yourself. Become best friends with yourself. Find a few moments alone and be present with yourself, even if the only moments alone you have are in the shower-relish every single second of it! Do yoga & MEDITATE!
And when the road gets hard, offer more LOVE into the road. Trust me, the road will get hard, because life is hard. I am not sure why we hold on to this belief that life is meant to be a smooth ride. In those moments where the wave seems just too high to ride, drop the story and just feel. Our storage house for love, our hearts, is such a vulnerable space and one we want to protect so vigilantly. However, we must remember to let the light shine in, always. When a wave comes that just seems to big to ride, I offer myself kindness by not talking bad to myself, by literally saying to myself “ok Minerva, drop the story, just feel”. Sometimes, I will even place my hand on my heart because this is where I feel it. I may chant, offer myself an affirmation “this too shall pass Minerva”, or just sit in silence and cry. And that is all ok. I am offering myself my genuine love. By doing this with myself, I am able to remember that the person who may have hurt me is not beneath me, nor am I better than them. They too are on their own journey, whatever it may look like for them and I am no one to judge.
See when we begin to have this genuine love with ourselves we are able to see the divinity within and around us. Something our ancestors knew all too well, that is why they lived in accordance with mama earth. Earlier when I said that the biggest gift I could offer anyone was the love I have for myself, this what I meant. You begin to shine from within, when you keep yourself open in the midst of what may feel like your annihilation, your light is still on. And that is contagious! Trust me.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche says: The experience of a sad and tender heart is what gives birth to fearlessness. Conventionally, being fearless means that you are not afraid or that, if someone hits you, you will hit them back. But we aren’t talking about that street-fighter level of fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world.
This one is dedicated to my greatest love guru, Sri Pages.
You were the one who removed the darkness in my heart. You were the one who showed me the love that I was capable of giving and receiving. You were my love guru. Thank You.
Every time she steps on her mat, Minerva thoroughly enjoys the dance between the breath and the asanas that create stillness in the mind. Come Namaste it Up with her every Mondays and Wednesdays at 7am, Tuesdays at 10:45am and Wednesdays at Noon! This is an edited version from its original post, which can be found at: namasteitup.com
by Robin Wilner
During my twenty years as a professional dancer and singer, I came into contact with many great teachers and masters of their craft. They offered valuable lessons, pushed me to my limits, and ultimately guided me towards achieving great success, often with great sacrifice. The terms teacher, master, and guru often become synonymous in western culture, and yet their meanings are quite different. A teacher is defined as one who instructs; a master is a highly skilled individual or someone in control; while the Sanskrit term guru actually translates to remover of darkness, which is in reference to the darkness of an ignorant mind. Reverend Jaganath Carrera explains that a Guru is a “trusted and divinely inspired spiritual mentor,” or one whose encouragement, love, and guidance help uncover the ability already within us to shine as our truest Self. None of my instructors were, by any means, the definition of a guru. In fact, many of them perpetuated the darkness rather than guided me away from it. It was a long while before I found my spiritual mentors, or what I like to call, the Gurus with a capital “G.”
For me, teachers were powerful beings that had the means to determine my level of success, which was deeply connected to my personal identity. While training for a ballet company at a very young age, I craved my mentors’ approval, even though praise was uncommon; and when it did come, I based my entire self-worth upon it. My teachers criticized my body; they pounded canes into the floor to keep us in rhythm, often using the same cane to lift my leg higher into the air; they shouted insults at rooms full of the most talented dancers, reminding us that we had yet to achieve perfection. They demanded unrelenting obedience and instilled fear to gain respect.
As I entered the professional world of dance and soon shifted to a career on Broadway, I learned many skills, honed my craft, and can attribute much of my accomplishments to the tutors and coaches that crossed my path. But I still based my sense of self worth on the approval of others, especially my mentors. I lived underneath a dark cloud of palpable ignorance, and it seemed as though there was no way out from underneath it…until I came to the yoga mat.
With time and commitment to my practice, I began to experience a deep compassion for myself, my thoughts shifted away from negative patterns, and I felt a sense of serenity and balance while struggling with a demanding lifestyle. The teachers who guided my practice over the next ten years didn’t have an agenda; rather they, too, were on a quest for spiritual discovery. Together, we came to the mat with a mutual enthusiasm and a desire to seek our true inner lightness through a fusion of asana (postures) pranayama (breathing), mantra (chanting), meditation and philosophy. I had begun to meet my Gurus with a capital “G”.
I soon learned that the true Guru is actually a principle found within our hearts that will eventually lead the way towards our own spiritual awareness. This concept is called upaguru, which translates from Sanskrit as “teacher without form.” External gurus, therefore, are useful in aiding our spiritual progress only as long as they reflect what the internal Guru is trying to reveal to us; if the two are out of sync (as in my case for many years), then the outer teacher becomes a hindrance. Once we have the tools to look at past and present experiences as personifications of this guru principle, then they no longer seem like obstacles for our happiness but rather a way to guide us towards our enlightenment.
In the words of renowned peace activist and Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, “When you know how to listen, everyone is the guru.” My external Gurus with a capital “G” are worth listening to and all come in the form of love: my parents encourage me to be myself and follow my heart; my husband reminds me daily to be patient and live in the moment; my healers on and off the mat support my journey towards well being of body, mind and spirit. The Guru even takes on subtler forms as the stranger who smiles back at me on the street, reminding me to be kind; the waitress who takes extra care with my food allergy, reminding me to be nurturing; the teenager who offers his seat to an elderly man on the train, reminding me to be respectful; or the journalist whose piece sparks an awareness of injustice, reminding me that transformation requires action.
Gurus with a capital “G” don’t need to be labeled as such, and they certainly don’t have an agenda. They are all around us, they reflect the Guru within us, and their true purpose is to enlighten our souls with strength, wisdom, clarity, and most of all, Love.
Robin Wilner is a former Broadway dancer/singer/actress who took a leap of faith, moved to the west coast, and is devoted to teaching and practicing yoga. Mixing her dance background with a love of chanting, meditative healing, and yoga philosophy, she strives to lead her students to a state of being that reflects their own inner radiance. A true seeker of knowledge, she is also pursuing a Masters Degree in Holistic Nutrition. Come play with Robin on the mat for Flow 2/3 on Wednesdays from 4:00-5:15PM, Morning Flow on Fridays from 7:00-8:00AM, and All Levels on Saturdays from 6:30-7:45PM. View Schedule
by Amy Ruben
At the age of 16, I was told that I had the knees of an eighty-year-old woman. I will never forget my doctor’s fatalistic declaration that my knees were essentially doomed. Years later, I would discover through a dedicated yoga practice that my knees actually did have a chance, and that my body was merely working according to Divine plan.
Today, I refer to my knees as my greatest teacher and the guiding force that has brought me to the guru. The word guru can be broken down into the syllables gu, which means darkness, and ru, which means light. The darkness refers to our shadow side, or the parts of ourselves that we unconsciously turn a blind eye to. The light refers to our innate wisdom, radiance and perfection. Therefore, to contemplate the inner guru is to shed light on our True Nature, our whole and holy Self, which naturally reveals both the parts of ourselves that we want to see as well as the parts of ourselves that we might not. Moving towards our inner light is an act of moving towards healing and freedom.
I like to think of this concept of darkness as an access point into a process of self-study, or svadhyaya. It is through opening our eyes in the dark and looking within that we can access the supreme knowledge that destroys avidya (ignorance). My experience of moving through rather than avoiding my knee pain has taught me that turning towards my darkness does not have to happen all at once. It requires patience, maitri (loving kindness), and tapas (dedication). We can take one step towards our darkness, and then one step back, and then two steps forward, and two steps back, and so on. Eventually, the bolted lock on the door of our True Nature will open to let the inner light shine through, and then the real healing begins. As the great Sufi poet and mystic, Kahlil Gibran, says, “your pain is the breaking open of the shell that encloses your understanding.” The guru resides within that very shell and will only appear when we are truly ready for a dedicated path of revealing, understanding and healing.
In my own search for spiritual guidance, I have come across countless teachers who have taught me something vital to my path, or my dharma. However, a teacher is not the same thing as a guru. Because the true guru lives deep in our hearts, in order to experience it fully we must turn our attention inwards. In the meantime, the guru may appear in human form as a guide, someone to reflect upon our need to turn within and discover that the inner guru is actually our own essential Self. The spiritual leader, Ram Dass, explains it well: “If you think of the spiritual path as the road home to your true Self, a teacher is someone standing next to you, pointing and giving directions, while the guru is up the road ahead, beckoning to you from your destination.”
The practices of yoga have brought me closer and closer to my own inner guru. The cosmic interplay of asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing), meditation, and mantra (chanting), turns into a Divine dance, which reveals what we are–the physical bodies we reside in, the emotional habits we have adopted, and our reactions to challenge and stillness. But who we are, our True Nature, is revealed when the dance forces us to look deep within and take the first step towards finding the inner guru. In other words, I have learned that I am much more than a person with challenged knees, that my physical pain does not define me, and that my emotional responses to suffering can be shifted with patience, love and devotion.
During December, the darkest month of the year, we honor and celebrate our gurus in human form, or the Divine beings who have uplifted, guided and encouraged us to open our hearts to the radiant light of healing. The winter solstice, on December 21, will be the darkest day of the year. But there is good news: the days are going to start increasing in light! If you have not yet met your guru in physical form, do not fret, for they will appear when you are ready. Come dance with us on your mat to first spark the fire within!
Amy bows in deep gratitude for the guidance of all of her teachers and gurus as she continues to walk the path of yoga. She is dedicated to supporting others on the path of healing and embodiment, and is currently working on a Masters to become a Somatic Psychotherapist.
Amy teaches Morning Flow on Tuesday from 7:00-8:00AM, Lotus Flow 1/2 on Friday from 9:00-10:00AM, Lotus Flow 2/3 on Saturday from 8:30-9:45AM, and co-teaches Friday Night Live from 8:30-10:00PM.
by Roche Janken
“Whoever with loving devotion offers unto Me a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I affectionately accept that devotional offering from that pure-hearted being.”
–Bhagavad Gita 9.26
Several years ago, after the economic meltdown, my dad quit his job as a financial planner and started teaching high school math. Being a thoughtful guy who likes to gather information and be prepared, he asked if we could sit down to talk about his new job–he wanted my advice on some of his classroom strategies. My dad LOVES math and loves problem solving, and as soon as we sat down he brought out his notes and began to try out some of his mathy explanations on me. We definitely got into it–I love math too–but at a certain point, I stopped and said to him, “Dad, what you’re doing is great, but don’t forget that school is really ALL about the kids. Most of them won’t use any math beyond arithmetic in their adult lives, but you have a chance to influence the way they live in the world!” His eyes lit up–he instantly got it. He put down his notes, started asking me about my experiences as a student and tried to get a real understanding of what it’s like to be an adolescent these days. Now, when we talk, some of his stories are about interesting ways to teach complex theorems, but mostly he’s talking about the lives and well-being of his students. I can tell how much heart he puts into his new work, and once in a while he shares a note from a profoundly grateful student that talks about how his caring attitude in class changed their lives.
“What does this have to do with yoga?” You may ask. Well, if you’re reading this blog, you probably spend some portion of your life doing yoga poses. As students, we work in partnership with our teachers–we filter their offering through our own set of ideas and goals for our practice. While we are practicing, we have a choice: We can prioritize the “math”–the poses and their perfected execution–or we can turn our attention to how this practice can be a vessel for care, joy and strength, regardless of the way the poses turn out.
Many spiritual teachings, including those of yoga, remind us again and again that our accumulated possessions or amassed knowledge or masterful asana are of no consequence–that what matters is the LOVE in our hearts. This is not always easy to remember in this city or this season, but the time we spend practicing yoga has the potential to bring these deeper values back to the surface of our attention. The choice is yours.
Roche’s mantra is Have Fun, tempered by the knowledge that having fun relies far more on how she guides her mind than the task she’s engaged in. She teaches from a sense of delight in the miracle that muscles and bones work so well together, a belief that devotion easefully enlivens any practice, and gratitude that we humans have the ability to dance. The play between rigorous study, brazen sensuality and deep wonder is the grounding for the work that she does in all the forms she loves.
Catch a class with Roche for Happy Hour from 5:30-6:30PM on Monday and Tuesday, and Alignment lab on Sunday from 11:45-12:45PM.
by Patsy O’Brien
Guru guru guru. Many people seek gurus throughout their lives. What do we seek in gurus? Defined as “a spiritual teacher,” almost anything can be a guru. Life lessons can be teachers — your successes and your failures. Your parents can be your spiritual teachers, even if the relationship is painful. Animals and nature can be spiritual teachers…what does a fox teach you about living in the woods? Then there are the more classical spiritual teachers like the Pope and Thich Nhat Hanh.
Like so many others, I’ve had a complicated relationship with teachers. While growing up, I consistently received very poor grades, usually ranging from C-’s to F’s, regardless of my efforts. I just didn’t seem to ever really understand the assignment or pass the test. It was only when I found a college that didn’t assign grades or administer any tests, that I was finally diagnosed as dyslexic.
I am still negotiating what being dyslexic means as an adult, but it felt great to finally have an explanation other than “you are just not a book person.” Growing up my teachers thought I was lazy, slow, or rebellious. Since my academic struggle began in elementary school, I began the work of disassociating letter grades from my identity at an early age. “That D has nothing to do with me”, was a recurring thought I remember having as a child. I would watch movies that always had similar plots of “The enthusiastic teacher who believed in the lone, sad, seemingly-stupid-but-really-a-genius student and helped them become the most successful person of all time.” I was always looking for that teacher who would finally SEE me, SEE that yes, I was terrible at tests and took a while to read, but I was actually an undercover genius. But it never happened. I even came up with speeches in my head carefully articulating the moment when I would accept a prestigious life achievement award: “and to my teacher Blah Blah Blah who believed in me when no one else did… we made it! We finally made it!!”
I actually had the opposite of the “I believe in you” relationship with most of my teachers from elementary through high school. Not only did they not believe in me, they also didn’t trust me. So by the time I was in middle school, there was one thing I learned pretty thoroughly — it was to not trust THEM. In 7th grade I began to have a more f— you attitude toward teachers. I began realizing that there wouldn’t be any authority figures to keep me safe or stick up for me, so I would have to protect myself (and my twin sister).
I began to question everything that people in authority told me to do. “But WHY? Why do we have to do XYZ?” The questioning made relationships a lot worse. It was only after finding my yogic path that I was confronted with my lingering feelings of uneasiness around authority figures. I was always vacillating between two thoughts: “I hope the teacher finally sees me and thinks I’M the most special and will think I’m smart”, and “oh no, what if I lose myself and what if I get taken advantage of?”
Happily, yoga doesn’t encourage blind faith or not questioning at all, yet at the same time it is also about practicing surrender. All of those ‘terrible’ teachers I had really were my gurus and I still have time to make amends and bow down to what I learned from having them in my life. I still believe that grades do not equate intelligence and that school CAN be a positive experience for everyone.
When you are a kid being harassed or just disappointed by authority figures, there is a lot of time spent speaking to your INNER guru. When life puts you on the sidelines, that is the time for inner reflection, for knowing that deep down, you have the strength and smarts to pursue any dream you can dream up. So listen! Listen to it all. Listen to yourself, to your mirrors all around you. It doesn’t mean you have to ‘do what they say’, but just to keep awake and truly listen. People can have an all-or-nothing feeling around Gurus. In yoga and Buddhism, it’s a good thing to question, but how much skepticism is healthy? There can be such low self-confidence in Western practitioners and at the same time a widely held dogma of “Be your own authority” in a way that is all about talking but not about listening.
So don’t fret, if you are still looking for your Guru or are scared to even find one…If you listen clearly, you will hear all of the spiritual teachings that are always being clearly laid out by your spiritual gurus, moving you towards awakening.
Patsy has been in love with meditation and yoga at Laughing Lotus SF since 2009. She completed Yoga School at Laughing Lotus in the Fall of 2010 and is currently one of the substitute teachers at Laughing Lotus SF! Having a beginner’s mind is particularly important to her on and off of the mat. She loves to paint, teach yoga, write, and surround herself with her Laughing Lotus community!