Down the road from my home is an ashram. I call it an ashram because that word properly conveys how entering that place immerses you into a world of apparently foreign teachings, how it offers solace and shelter to folks when they know least where to go. It is a world away from the city outside, even while the instructions on the recycling bins outline how to sort the ubiquitous rubbish cups and lids from the coffee church at the corner.
The last couple weeks the bright and earlier daylight’s been stirring me in time to get out for morning meditation. It’s funny, as someone who enjoys sitting, and who has come to understand how sitting with a group is worlds easier than sitting alone, … it’s funny that it took me several years of living here before I even went in the door. I could never get a read on the place, somehow older and deeper and teaching a yoga I couldn’t recognize among the so many more popular schools focusing on body shapes, devotions, and positive thinking.
The central ritual this ashram enacts is a daily fire ceremony: Agnihotra. They chant over the fire in this place twelve times weekly, and as I imagine it continuously since the temple was opened in 1972 (before I was born). The ceremony itself ~ 10 minutes of sanskrit mantra chanting over burning ghee to renew a purity in that space and on behalf of all space ~ has, I reckon, been practiced continuously since before the dawn of recorded history.
For this Taurus, writing today on a Taurean new moon eclipse morning, there is an incredible medicine in identifying this continuity. Imagine a profoundly deep and simple practice which is valuable at levels so much more subtle than anything subject to mental analysis or capitalism. It anchors the day while anchoring participants also in much greater spans of cosmic time.
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It’s the shape of the temple that I am writing to reflect on today. Most places I’ve sat are the same shape as traditional rooms, with a focus at one end of a quadrilinear space where everyone faces the front. The Cosmic Temple at the Yoga Society, rather, is built to focus on an open hearth and chimney in the center of the room. Everyone sits facing the middle. And in case the point of this being an astrological teaching might be missed, the hearth is bounded by a tiled ring of inset zodiac glyphs. It’s a beautiful space with rainbows hand-painted all up in the arches overhead.
The habit of organizing into fours is so widespread in our culture we may be excused a myopia around the choices it forces. There are four cardinal directions in our geography, four seasons, four elements in the traditions of astrology, four walls hold up the roofs over our heads. We orient our movements forward, backward, left, and right, and much less is the option of moving inward taught or practiced.
If we make a leap to the body, conventional attention lands most squarely on the surface of the skin, at simplest a front, back, two sides. Following all the curves even on the surface of a body carries us eons from anywhere which could be measured in fours. This path prompts an level intimacy with one’s self which is an affront to the quartered world, evoking an eroticism which affirms that four-ness may be real but is not an absolute.
Follow now from the surface to the inner. It’s here where our truth lives. We may evaluate whether something we’ve encountered continues to be true for us. Our creativity moves from this un-manifest space into form and quality and shape and value.
The connections among four elements and the physical body are juicy stuff to me, and worthy of many more posts all their own. What’s useful today, reflecting on the temple with the altar in the middle, is how it parallels a sacred circle cast in four directions which contain a sacred fifth. Just as astrologically we work in four elements but can encounter them all from an even more subtle place sometimes indicated by the fifth element: often called Space, or Ether. So that when we think of our habits or personality as fixed by our chart placements, we can nonetheless take this turn to the deeper pivot around which their expression can be refined and made to work for us.
As we reflect on food and loot and sensuality and all the Taurean encounters with stuff, may we open our inner eye to recall how every thing is a vessel for that which it veils within. Your body for example is perfect as it is right now, even if you have yet to access its full capacity. Or if you’re living at full embodied power, still you may concede our shared body of Spaceship Earth, us around the common central altar of the fire puja, has yet to come fully online.
And finally as you maybe move toward turning off this screen, honor how turning from the so many stimulus outside to a moment of acknowledgement of the center (which is You) reestablishes you in the great webs of cosmic time. This step can and will rededicate all you do as a evocation of what is yet possible in a miraculous world. Swaha.