An Examined Life Together

I realized I should smile more and frown less, otherwise I might be misunderstood.


Awaken the Senses Outdoors

“Look out at the sky and the long view. Observe the horizon, buildings and trees. Notice if anything is moving. Watch the clouds. See the various textures and shapes of plants. Study tree leaves against the blue sky.”

Spring: Emergence of Divine Energy

“Like the awakening of the Earth in springtime, the yogi’s objective is to awaken Kundalini Shakti from its dormancy and move it up through the spinal column to the crown of the head.”


February 1st is halfway between the first day of winter and the first day of spring.

In November and December we celebrated holidays that summoned the return of the sun. During Diwali, Hanukah, Winter Solstice, and Christmas we beckoned and prayed for the sun to return and brighten our lives. Many folks lit candles and decorated their homes elaborately with electric lights. Now in February we’ll be rewarded with longer days and we’re certain the promise of spring is around the corner.

To the Celts, February 1st is called Imbolc and is celebrated as the quickening of the year. As such, light returns at a noticeable pace, lengthening each day. We awaken each morning to less darkness than a month earlier and each evening it stays light longer.

“Give me love, Give me peace on earth

Give me light, Give me life

Keep me free from birth, Give me hope

Help me cope, with this heavy load

Trying to touch and reach you with heart and soul


Give Me Love, (Give Me Peace On Earth), George Harrison

Light from the sun: we all need it. We crave it. We thrive on it. We love bright rainbows after a storm and light shining through crystals or stained-glass windows. We refer to famous people as “stars” and travel to warmer climes to turn our faces to the sun. We write stories with characters desperate for it (“Give me light!” demands the king in Hamlet) and characters who are sad sing about it (“The sun’ll come out tomorrow,” from Annie). But these are all metaphors for the deep human condition of trying to return to our origin, our birthright, the place that we can truly call home, the Light Within.

“People are like stained-glass windows.

They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in,

Their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Years ago my stepmother was thought to have died when she flat-lined during surgery. But she regained full consciousness and said that, for those moments, she was summoned to walk toward the Light at the top of a staircase. There was no face giving instructions, just a very bright light and the understanding that she should move toward it. There are many references to this light in yoga literature, where it is known as the Light of Consciousness.

The Vedas, and the Upanishads contained within them, bring us mantras and other reminders of Inner Light. A well-known verse from the Rig-Veda is the Gayatri Mantra. It inspires meditation on inner illumination and purification. It imparts knowledge of the sun that dwells within. The Katha Upanishad teaches that the sun shines on us all, providing life-giving energy, warmth and light to everyone equally.

The Pavamana Mantra is a well-known affirmation from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The middle stanza reminds the seeker to remain steadfast in the pursuit of the Light of knowledge, despite a busy, disturbed mind that creates a veil of darkness:

“Lead me from the untruth to truth.

Lead me from darkness to light.

Lead me from death to everlasting life.”

Centuries later, Buddha declared a similar sentiment when telling the seeker to “Light thy own lamp.” Grace dawns only after we do the hard work of a spiritual aspirant.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,

but by making the darkness conscious.”

Carl Jung

The Bhagavad Gita teaches that darkness is the path of selfishness and suffering. These are  brought on by ignorance and attachment to the things of the external world. A yogi is one with self-control. She follows the path of light, faithfully devoting her life to gain control over the senses and the mind.

There are also bringers of light, torchbearers to help dispel the darkness of ignorance. Yoga tradition tells us we need a Guru, one who can selflessly bring us to see our own inner Light.

“For a beginner on the spiritual path, a Guru is necessary.

To light a candle, you need a burning candle.

An illumined soul alone can enlighten another soul.”

Swami Sivananda

Ayurveda has an important precept that the microcosm is reflected in the macrocosm, and vice versa. Everything in the outer world exists in the inner world. Similarly, in hatha yoga we salute the sun as it is reflected in our hearts when practicing the twelve positions called Soorya Namaskar or the Sun Salutation. This invigorating sequence clears glands, loosens joints and increases warmth all over the body.

Just as the sun moves across the sky casting light and shadows at different angles, changing the look of the landscape every few seconds, our minds are ever-changing. We see the world in a different light from one day to the next, even from moment to moment.  It requires fortitude and courage to keep the darkness at bay and focus on the inner Light. Clouds may cover the sun, but we need not let that mantle reflect poorly on our inner world. The Yoga Sutras tell us when we meditate on the heart long enough grace will join us there in that Light.

The darkest season of the year is over. A greater amount of daylight has returned, and if we turn our gaze inward, we can see the Light there, too, in the heart. It won’t be long before the buds on some trees begin to drop their coverings and shoots pop out of the ground next to the groundhog!

Confessions of a Yogini

Yoga is a science that teaches us to quiet body, the energy field and the mind, in that order, so we may then forget them and absorb back into the realm of Cosmic Consciousness.


“I’m grateful to anyone that is happy or free,

For giving me hope while I’m looking to see,

The Light that has lighted the world.”

The Light That Has Lighted the World, George Harrison

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the Dakota Sioux call the full moon in August “Moon When All Things Ripen.” When the harvests begin in August and the fullness of summer is here, we enjoy the fresh, local fruits and vegetables! Who could ask for more?

Well, most people could. And most people do want more, and more. We want more money and more things we don’t need. We want to travel, we want to party, and we want recognition. We want what other people have, we’re jealous if we don’t have it and we’re angry if we can’t get it.

Vedanta teaches that there are two types of happiness. Transient happiness comes from the material world. Internal happiness is earned from doing the hard work of spiritual practices. Simply put, we’re not happy because we’re looking outside of ourselves for happiness. The wise person will seek fulfillment or contentment within. Contentment, or santosha, is one of the internal observances, or niyamas, that Yoga suggests we follow to further our progress on the spiritual path.

While my English language dictionary equates contentment with happiness, Yoga distinguishes them saying we must first cultivate contentment then internal happiness will follow. The Yoga Sutras say, “From contentment happiness is gained.” But there’s more: “supreme happiness comes after the cessation of desires.” So, first be content with what we have then stop wanting more.

Vyasa, the esteemed Yoga Sutras commentator, said nothing in the world brings pleasure as much as eliminating all of one’s desires. Desires trap the mind and block it from spiritual progress. Once desires are removed the mind can stabilize and turn inward. Then the seeker moves towards internal happiness, or fullness. In Sanskrit “fullness” is purna, alternatively transliterated as “satisfied, abundant, fulfilled, complete, or perfection. One vedantic book, the Ishopanishad says that humans are perpetually seeking perfection or fullness. The problem is we’re looking in the wrong place. Vedanta teaches that fullness is always there and available if we look in the right place, within the heart.

Yoga’s basic tenet is mastery over the vast field of the mind through contemplation and meditation. We all need things in this life, but they don’t bring us long-lasting, unsurpassed happiness. Try to disconnect from the desires for them and train yourself to eliminate cravings. The more you do it the more it will work. By prevailing over them rather than letting desires prevail over you, your mind will attain satisfaction, contentment and fullness.

Jesus said, “No one can become my disciple if they do not give up all possessions” (Luke 14:33). Likewise, the Ishopanishad says to “not lust after any man’s wealth.” It goes on to say that we should see God in all things and all people, and never, at any time, stray from this concept. “In order to tread the path of divine knowledge, night and day the aspirant should imbibe the truth that God is omnipresent.”

“Take this fact unto thy soul,

God dwells in thee.

It is no metaphor, nor parable.

It is unknown to thousands, and to thee.

Yet there is God.”

Gnothi Seauton, Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Ishopanishad further teaches us not be jealous of anyone. “The wise man beholds all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings; for that reason he does not hate anyone.” We simply cannot be jealous if we regard the oneness of all beings. Jealousy for something another person has can be all consuming. Striving creates anxiety, which only distracts us from the inner work of seeking peace and a genuine, inner happiness. Train the mind to be content even during feelings of jealousy. Look to others who have truly achieved happiness as a beacon or example, as in the song above.

How often do you feel malcontented? Do you actively admit being jealous? Give up the attitude of jealousy, lest your spirit be burdened. Do you carelessly say “I hate” this or that. This only increases discontent. Practice self-awareness of these thoughts in the mind and do not let them stay rooted. Try not to yield to them, but abandon them. We suffer more from the process of coveting than we do from going without the things we desire!

Humanistic psychologists trust in peoples’ inherent goodness. They agree that people constantly strive for increased levels of functioning and that people have free choice. This is consistent with Eastern ideas. When I feel jealous, disappointed or malcontent, I exercise my free choice and appreciate the fullness of my life. I take some slow, deep breaths; adjust my thoughts; remember my loved ones and my duty toward them…my heart is full!

As I also enjoy the fullness of summer and the warmer days, I count my blessings. I enjoy and appreciate these few summer weeks that I long for in the middle of the cold winter. I am overjoyed by the fullness of the simple joys of summer when I look around at the lovely landscapes, the canopies of lush trees and the multitude of colorful flowers.

“The wind is low, the birds will sing, that you are part of everything…

Won’t you open up your eyes? Look around…”

Dear Prudence, The Beatles

Copyright Cynthia Gran 2015