Excerpts from Ms. Shankara’s books
From Radiance Rising: Spiritual Practices for Daily Living, a pocketbook of spiritual practices by Teja Shankara:
From the Introduction:
As I delved deeper into understanding the Yoga Path, I began to see that anyone on any spiritual path could learn the yogic practices and apply them to their lives. With that in mind, I offer this book of spiritual practices. My intention is to provide an inspirational book that in plain language describes basic spiritual practices that anyone – of any religion – can incorporate into their spiritual journey.
In this book I describe the spiritual practices that I do in my daily life that are helping me find more balance and harmony. When I refer to my Gurus or to the Divine, I do not intend to push my path on anyone. I value all paths that lead people to more Love.
When I really stop and think about why I am doing all of these spiritual practices, I realize that my goal is to merge more and more with the Divine Love that lives deep inside all of our hearts, because I see that the more my heart softens into that Love, the more I share that Love with others. The whole point of spirituality is to learn how to handle life with more ease, which then naturally makes us act more loving and kind with others. As Gandhi-ji said, first we have to change ourselves and be the change that we want to see in the world.
As we change ourselves and our own inner radiance rises, it spontaneously shines out, benefiting everything and everyone around us. My teacher Basil once told me that he couldn’t cut me much slack because he could see that I had great potential. He advised me to be rigorous with how I held myself. Difficult though it is, I endeavor to keep my attention on merging with the highest Light.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 2008, my Guru Ammachi, who is popularly known as the “hugging saint,” gave me the name Tejaswini, which means “full of effulgence, full of light, radiant, and bright.” With Basil’s high expectations (and my own), and with Amma’s vision of me as full of light, I continue to perform my daily spiritual practices with the intention to become Love and Light, so that I may radiate that brightness out in service of all.
So, my goal or my intention is to become Love and Light, and I don’t see that as something that suddenly happens fifty years from now. Rather, I see that each of us gradually becomes more loving. As we practice watching our thoughts and softening our hearts, we incrementally experience more bliss and harmony in our lives.
From the section on Meditation:
Meditation is simply paying attention to what is happening within us in the present moment. While sitting still and quiet in meditation, we allow ourselves to witness our thoughts, witness our emotions, and witness our bodily sensations. We don’t try to change or fix anything, but rather we just witness ourselves exactly as we are in each moment. We practice paying attention and accepting whatever comes.
While paying attention to whatever is arising, we also gently direct our attention toward a point of concentration, such as our breath or a mantra. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of times, our attention will sway into thoughts, and each time we simply notice the thoughts, and patiently bring our attention back to our chosen point of concentration.
Meditation is an inherent physiological ability that we can learn and practice. Meditation is simply sitting in our beings and watching our experiences from moment to moment.
I resisted meditation for years. Quite a few people recommended it to me and each time my internal response was, ‘They have got to be kidding. I could not sit still for twenty minutes doing nothing – that would be so totally boring. I am not that kind of person – I need more activity, like dancing or walking.’
While it is true that we can get into a calm, meditative state while dancing or walking, there is something unique to sitting meditation that provides us with amazing benefits. Even after just a few months of practicing sitting meditation for twenty minutes each day, many people already begin to see positive results in their lives.
Why is sitting still so beneficial to us? Well, for one thing, we are built for it. Our systems are designed to be able to go into deep states of blissful peace and calm. In our crazy, rushed modern life, most of us go, go, go from sunup to beyond sundown. In the midst of the stress we are immersed in, we have forgotten that our natural human state is one of happiness and joy. When we sit still in meditation regularly, we gradually begin to catch glimpses of that natural happy state.
Our bodies and minds respond quite positively to that natural happy state. Current research on meditation is proving that this easy-to-learn skill can provide numerous documented benefits, including: the reduction of blood pressure; help with insomnia, anxiety, and depression; and the ease of tension and stress. Many regular meditators also experience increased clarity of thought and more effective actions in the world.
I find that even when my mind labels a particular meditation session as “not good” because of overwhelming monkey-mind chatter, the meditation has still affected me in a positive way. My thoughts may have been racing in over-drive, but since the Witness Mind was watching them, I was actually still sitting in meditation. So even after a monkey-mind session, when I stand up to go about my day, I notice that there is an open, tingly sensation around my head, and a feeling of spaciousness around my heart. Regular meditation creates an inner calm that brings more joy to my daily life.
From The Rita Lila: A Western Yogini’s Journey to Bliss, the spiritual memoir by Rita Ann Shankara:
From Chapter 29, Samadhi, Surprises, and Gold:
After the tea break that evening, Basil talked about courage, discernment, and guidance. He advised: “Whatever is arising, don’t cling to its phenomenon and don’t hide in your strategies (‘being sick all the time’ is one strategy), but rather, stand firmly in your being, in the unraveling. Have the courage to BE with what is emerging, and the discernment to know what you are experiencing.
“In this time of dissolving form, in this declining empire, ask yourself, ‘What am I called to do?’ and listen to your inner guidance. There is a lot of anxiety out there in the Collective, but if you take in nourishment (friends, food, practices, prayers), and listen for guidance, then you will be able to navigate through – no matter what happens. All of the information in this age produces anxiety that is both contagious and crippling… As yogis and yoginis, it is our responsibility to continually calm ourselves so that we not only lessen our personal anxieties, but we also lessen the amount of anxiety that we contribute to the Collective Anxiety.”
As the evening ended, Basil told a short story for me:
Once there was a firefly of Consciousness buzzing around inside a cupboard. She couldn’t figure out how to get out – she was buzzing around lighting up motherhood, career, parents visiting… but she couldn’t see the instructions. Then she closed her eyes and thought of God, and when she opened her eyes she saw the instructions: “Open Here.”
In the following days, I still felt sick to my stomach and my head also hurt, but as I contemplated the teachings from that night, I began to take courage. I started focusing my attention on surrendering to each and every experience.
From Chapter 43, Hawaii Retreat:
“Rita, for your enlightenment program, all you need are these two things: 1. The mind becomes that which it dwells upon, and 2. By placing the mind on the highest state, you become the highest state.
“Putting your mind on energetic structures helps you to open. You have to gain strength in keeping your gaze on the highest state. Remember that we reinforce conditions by dwelling on them – we are all doing this. We are all there, oscillating and learning to put our concentration on things that expand us.
“We each come in with veils of doubt that we can only each burn through on our own, through meditation. After you burn through them, you understand why they were there. However, you have to get out of your own misery to be sensitive enough to feel those higher dimensions.”
From Love Soups: A Vegetarian Soup Cookbook Inspired by the Soup Devas, by Rita Ann Shankara:
From Helpful Hints:
~ Keep in mind that there are always many variables that affect how a recipe turns out on any given day. The most important variable is your own mental state and the openness of your heart. Try to always cook with love in your heart. So many variables: your mood, the particular spices, the environment, the seasons, the foods… Just do your best and remember to taste your soups as you go along, so that you can adjust the spices and other ingredients accordingly.
~ Recipes can even vary from one time to the next, even if you do everything exactly the same. Be open and organic with cooking. Be inspired. The outcomes vary according to the amounts used and the times cooked, but also according to your mood and state of consciousness. It is best to prepare food with love. As you are cooking, open your heart and cook with an attitude of serving those you are cooking for, including yourself! Even if you are in a foul mood, at least cultivate the Witness part of your mind. Say to yourself, or even say aloud, “A bad mood is passing through me, but I can still prepare this food with love.” Even if you feel depressed, you can still cook with love in your heart. To help you cook with love, turn on some music you enjoy, light candles, burn incense, and/or place a vase of flowers or fresh herbs nearby.
~ If you don’t already do this, try to think of cooking in a new way. There are many ways to view cooking – as prayer, as a hobby, as a spiritual practice, as service to those you are feeding, as taking care of your health, and so forth.
From the section on Fall Soups:
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 Japanese eggplants, small to medium, chopped small
3 small zucchini, chopped
5 small yellow squash, chopped
4 small red onions, chopped
4 tomatoes – boil separately first for 1 minute, remove skins, then chop into 1/8s
fresh basil, chopped
garlic, chopped finely, about 3 tablespoons
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried sage leaf
¾ cup olive oil
Heat onions on medium-low heat in ½ cup olive oil until soft. Add eggplant and ¼ cup more olive oil. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, 4 cups of water, and the salt. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add zucchini, squash, pepper, and sage. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add bell peppers and garlic. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 3 more minutes. Remove from heat. Top with fresh basil.