Books: Stephen Levine’s “A Gradual Awakening”, by Ella Isakov
Stephen Levine is an American poet, author and teacher best known for a mindful, meditative approach to death, dying and grief. In “A Gradual Awakening”, Stephen writes a beautiful and easy to understand book on Vipassana meditation, an ancient meditation technique attributed to Buddha himself. Levine’s other published works address the intense grief one can experience from the death of loved ones. But in “A Gradual Awakening” he acknowledges the “everyday grief” that is felt from burdens, stress, disappointments, and illusions of life that grow deeper within us over time. “A Gradual Awakening” is about looking inward to find the answers. Levine explains the Vipassana method of meditation by writing about its developmental stages, what can get in our own way to achieving peace and harmony within, and how finding mindfulness will bring ease to everyday life.
In “A Gradual Awakening”, Stephen explains that when we meditate and become present with each moment, concentration and awareness increases, and the ego fades. We are often shadowed from our authentic self by our thoughts, desires and fears. Wisdom comes through meditating and going inward. With time, old tendencies (samskaras) come to the surface for release, and we get a deeper understanding and awareness of their root cause. Then it can become more challenging to maintain equilibrium as even deeper samskaras rise to the surface, and we have to surrender to the present moment without judgement of what is happening within our mind and body. The “monkey mind” is powerful! By sitting and being quiet we can begin to let go of strong desires and reactions to wanting.
Vipassana meditation brings awareness inward, to be with sensations. Being with them without reaction allows them to pass, and deeper rooted ones to rise. Mindfulness comes from maintaining a still body, which brings a still mind. When we open our minds and hearts, without trying to understand, simply allowing the understanding to occur, we find treasures we never expected. When we release control, and allow ourselves to be with what is, we move towards truth. When we accept what is, we allow ourselves to expand, and can begin to fully experience our life.
We are our own hindrances. Our feelings of unworthiness and doubt feed the ego. Our sense of having to do something and be a certain way come from our sense of unworthiness, our own personal distrust. We can let go of the feelings of unworthiness by giving it space, not by suppressing or controlling it. Vipassana meditation can help create that space to be quiet and just be with what is at each moment, within the body and the mind, to find equilibrium.
I have completed two ten-day Vipassana meditation retreats, and served one for five days. I found each one to be a greater challenge than the last, as deeper work was being done, and greater understanding acquired about equilibrium (stillness of body and mind). For the two ten-day retreats I sat, I felt such deep and gross sensations rise (samskaras) in certain body parts that it felt unbearable and I felt my body and mind move into panic mode. It was incredibly challenging to just be with what was, not wishing the sensations to dissipate when they were unbearable, and not attaching to the moments that were comfortable and pleasant. The tension and pain I was feeling were the resistance, the non-acceptance of what was at that moment. It is only when we accept and release to the discomfort, and not wish it be anything other than what it is in that moment, that we become free. Surrendering to every moment without judgement or a desire for a specific outcome is the way to truth, to release old habits and move towards freedom, where authentic love, compassion, and peace are fully present within.
Ella Isakov is a yogi, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist, and humanitarian.
Ella feels that yoga found her, and is incredibly grateful for the beautiful gifts she continuously discovers on her journey, on and off the mat. Her passion and purpose in life has always been to teach and inspire others along their path. Ella’s goal is to provide a warm, safe and attentive environment, giving special attention to individual needs and educating students so they can grow in their understanding of the nature of the poses within their own body and discover their own inner wisdom.
Ella left her career as a school teacher, but continues to combine her two loves of yoga and children by teaching kids yoga through FUN, empowering, interactive and mindful yoga play. She is also a Phoenix Rising yoga therapist, working with clients using classic yoga postures and mind-body psychology to allow for a deeper connection to self.