The Urban Monastery

When we take the posture of meditation and practice our sitting we expect a blissful response in our lives. It also happens, but is not as usual when people begin to do Hatha Yoga.  You start gradually wanting to keep in shape or find a means to calm the stress in your life. As the effects and benefits from yoga can be so profound you want to do it more times a week.  Then it begins to become apparent that you are noticing that how you typically react to stress is taking you away from that calmer state of mind so you delve deeper into meditation.  You move into creating a home environment where you can escape and slow your mind down.  You find yourself wanting to spend more time exploring what that quiet experience is.

The definition of Guru means a “Dispeller of Darkness.” Unfortunately, for the city seeker, there are no signs or billboards advertising the message that what you are experiencing is “normal.”  There is not an urban monastery that supports these changes and gives the guidance that an experienced “teacher” is qualified to give. Only one’s own understanding that the world around us does not support these spiritual changes that take place, can our own enviornment become the support that a real monastery provides.

Changes of how you manage your daily life begin to happen.  You notice how you relate to your family and friends may feel different, displaced.  You may have a difficult time as self-awareness begins to become more compelling and is your greater focus.  Maybe you begin to notice things about yourself that you never saw before, but you still need to go to work, take care of daily needs, and function in a world that no longer makes as much sense to you.

At this point many people don’t connect this change to their practice of yoga or meditation.  So they go to the Doctor and get a prescription for some mood enhancer.

When I began to seriously meditate for the purpose of personal, emotional and mental growth, my “teacher” told me that this is a very serious undertaking.  In her experience she had seen some people loose control and get much worse before getting better.

I saw this personally when I went to a Zen Buddhist monastery in the mountains of New York to teach yoga. I was ushered into the complete Zen Buddhist practice, teachings and lifestyle.  This was after five years of constant, intensive communication with my teacher and going through many changes from my own meditation practice.

Meditating for hours each day, a group of city seekers entered into an exotic Japanese atmosphere complete with robes, incense, Buddhist monks, nuns, and a real life Japanese Roshi (old Japanese Zen Master)

No real guidance was offered,  just a lot of confusing innuendos that asked me to continually look for some meaning into something that had NO meaning.  Dysfunctional relationships with the Head Roshi complete with inappropriate sexual behavior, all within the guise of spirituality led to confusion and resentment amongst the diehard residents.  In this beautiful mountain monastery, students (nuns and monks, mostly from NYC) could hide out and not have to face what they left behind.

Meanwhile the power of meditation had its own agenda.  People would flip out during long sittings and on the weekend they would get roaring drunk as a way to decompress and let out their anger.

I was grateful that I had not gone there looking for any answers or guidance. I saw that the longer people would stay, the harder it was for them to return to life off of that mountaintop.

The urban monastery is the umbrella surrounding our own lives.  Home is the Zendo and practice of mundane day to day doings becomes the living classroom  testing how we are able to adjust to our new way of honestly relating to those we have accommodated. You see that how you relate to those closest to you is starting to change. There will be a natural discomfort in the beginning and this is something that is also very normal.  Your Urban Monastery is always there if you can remember to turn inward just for the moment when the stress of realization overwhelms you. Take the time to see what your meditation practice is asking you to look at that you have been avoiding for many years.

Yoga poses that are helpful to calm the nervous system and quiet your mind during these periods of internal stress are: Forward bends.

Simple forward bends that you can stay in for some time.

Practice shavasana (corpse pose) to relax your entire body and allow what is gnawing at your consciousness to come to the surface and reveal itself to you.


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