March 13, 2010

Meditations on a Dew Drop

Tias Little’s New Collection of Poems and Teachings on the Flow of Presence

Dewdrops on a blade of grass,
Having so little time
Before the sun rises:
Let not the autumn wind blow so quickly on the field.

– Thirteenth century Zen master, Dogen

Contemporary American yoga culture encourages an attitude of striving, of desire and dissatisfaction. Tantalizingly, studios display chic new yoga fashions, stitched with expensive eco-friendly cloth, bespattered in shimmery golden buddhas. The size and shape and style of yoga mats are becoming more varied and expensive, and the list of necessary accoutrements grows daily (read: lavender-filled eye pillows, cork blocks, long straps, Kulae hot yoga towels, sweatbands, etc etc). Step into a yoga class in any affluent urban neighborhood and it’s difficult to remain undistracted by all the bling accessories. One woman sports a color-coordinated lululemon ensemble, another wears a belly shirt displaying her sculpted abs, a man spreads a super-absorbent, stylishly thin yoga towel over his thick Manduka mat, triceps rippling under smooth, tanned skin. Even the teacher wears dangling Satya earrings, a sparkling crystal mala, and rings on her spread toes. And this is only the materialistic part; physical prowess and accomplishment becomes all-powerful in these hot, steamy rooms. The vibe throbs – people sweat and breathe through the asanas, pushing their endurance, flexing muscles, bending a little deeper in lunges. They stretch their hamstrings hard in splits, spring up into handstand with a grunt, sling their spines forward and back in seemingly endless vinyasa sequences.

Paradoxically, most serious yogis know that traditional yoga was meant to help still the busy mind and bring quietude in the body, yet American yoga remains shot through with materialism, vanity, and straining for something more: a thinner body, a toned stomach, bikini-worthy buttocks. Maybe the striving is for more flexibility, relaxation, and peace. Even if the goal is spiritual, the approach still grows from the feeling that there’s something missing – we need to do more, be different, feel better.

In his new book, Meditations on a Dew Drop: Poems and Teachings on the Flow of Presence, Tias Little addresses these issues, illuminating the ephemeral, delicate, and fleeting nature of life through the metaphor of a dew drop. Drawing on passages from wisdom teachers and Buddhist sages throughout the centuries, Little emphasizes the importance of tuning into the passing nature of form and thoughts, in order to be free of our clinging. “The inevitability of dissolution heightens our appreciation for the dew drop moments that fill our lives. In the sitting practice, we meditate on the fragility and limitations of our own bodies, of our children’s lives, our career, cash flow and identity. It is the fleeting nature of the thing – be it a drop of dew or a life span, that highlights its beauty.” Through lush images of water, leaves and lotuses, and an abundance of ancient teachings, this book brings a new voice into contemporary yogic dialog. It conveys necessary wisdom to a culture characterized by grasping and dissatisfaction.

Tias Little is a world-renowned yoga teacher and long-time practitioner of the Buddhist path. For many years, he devoted his life to the practice of Ashtanga yoga, striving to accomplish all three series. If he could only master all these poses, he thought, then he would be happy, and successful, and free. But over time, through his devoted practices of meditation and mindful movement, he came to see that this mindset of accumulation ultimately leads only to more suffering, since life is innately impermanent and fluid in nature. Even if we do manage to accomplish our goals, to lose ten pounds or meet the perfect someone or earn six figures, we are always victims of change: in the end, we all grow old, get sick, and die. Ancient teachings in Vajrayana Buddhism explain that, over the passage of time, all things accumulated with be dispersed, everything built will be destroyed, all meetings will end in separation, and all birth ends in death. By realizing that peace can only be found in the present moment, as imperfect as it may seem, we can catch a glimpse of the true practice of yoga. We can let go of expectations and become curious about the subtle sensations in our hips, our eyes, our breathing.

Tias Little now embraces a more contemplative yogic approach, encouraging mindfulness meditation, dharma study, and attention to subtle body energies. In writing Meditations on a Dew Drop, Little has created a visual montage of his own meditation process: “My hope is that the practitioner read and reread these passages and in so doing will bring new insights to the cushion or the mat. May the tantalizing beauty of these precious dewdrop moments bring about great sensitivity and compassion for all things temporary in the midst of an increasingly fragile world.”

Little quotes Dogen: “When you contemplate impermanence genuinely, the ordinary selfish mind does not arise, and you do not seek fame or fortune, because you realize that nothing prevents the swift flow of time.” Meditations on a Dew Drop is a valuable collection of these reflections, reminding us to find stillness and awareness in the midst of our yoga practice, so that we can find freedom instead of suffering. As Little says, “If we can see the extraordinary within the ordinary, we can have gratitude and appreciation for the small things in life – the taste of tea, the smell of rain in the desert, the in and out movement of the breath. By being at ease with the ordinary we release or grip on having to become better, or different, or more special than what we already are.”

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