Dive in

I had the good fortune to go to eight precious hours of lecture by Sanskrit scholar, Prof. Rao, while he toured through the United States. As the amount of time was limited, he touched upon points in the Upanishads, the Gita, as well as the Yoga Sutras, in broader strokes than he would normally teach. He was absolutely charming and quite engaging, and he warned us that he could only cover so much. However, what I found interesting was how he described this overview. Prof. Rao compared it to a road map. He said he was merely showing us points of interest in an overhead visual map, his coverage was just dots marking where we could chose to explore further.

In this same way he described a quest for spirituality or meditation. Though he said it could be done in a universal approach, solo, that it was usually easier by concentration on one with guidance from a guru. He compared it to teaching young children to swim. Though you could just have them jump in or throw them in to flounder and struggle, more likely than not, only a few may do well that way. However, many would be safer and more at ease if they wore floaties on their arms to have support and while gaining confidence to learn the right motions before diving in alone. Self exploration is easier when a foundation is present, even then there can still be a coach or teacher to help with nuances on the way.

I’m teaching my son to drive right now. He will be taking his test in a few weeks to get his drivers license. The first day I took him out with his permit, we started in a quiet and mostly empty school campus parking lot. He was nervous, more than I had expected, so I had to really show him calmly that I trusted him and get him confident in his speed and stopping capabilities in a big circle before adding anything else to the mix. He’s now up to night, rain, and highways. He’s pretty good, I had him take a drivers education course that included eight hours behind the wheel and thirty hours of classroom instruction. I’ve had them work on ensuring he’s capable and competent in not just what is included on the test but my weakest areas of instruction..parallel parking.

Comically, I’m excellent at parallel parking, (years of living and driving in NYC) but yet, somehow, lack the right words to instruct it properly for a beginner. I think sometimes, when things come effortlessly to you, it makes it harder to teach. If you’ve never had to think about how to go about it, how do you tell someone else how to do it other than the basics? I think this perspective holds true in teaching asana as well, it’s easier to help or assist someone in a place where I’ve struggled, like backbending, versus one that I could just do…though believe me, there aren’t many of those! In some point of any instruction, there is a point of letting go, of trusting that the exploration needs to be within the individual. That success comes through their own trials and errors.

A road map of spirituality can show the highlights of places to visit, but it doesn’t cover the journey. What will be in the path? Will it be a straight shot on the expressway or meandering country roads? Will it involve a specific religion, all, none? Will the knowledge gained in the trip be understood, explored, questioned, enjoyed or just memorized? Just as I have to let my son explore the roads alone, it’s not always going to be sunny days and clear visibility. There will be stormy nights and accidents. There will be times, you just want to be along for the ride, a passenger just relaxing and enjoying the scenery, but instead your in charge. Have I given him the confidence to trust his capabilities and the right tools to navigate his travels behind the wheel? Does he know it’s a marathon and not a sprint, that his duty is to focus in the moment and avoid harm, and that what arises may be beyond his control? I’ve been thorough and done the best I could. Regardless of my vivid imagination, I must let him undertake this right of passage, my growing pains of letting go, and pangs of all the what ifs out in the world, only impede his own journey now, just like an Olympic swimmer would be by floaties. It’s time to let him dive in.

Crazy yogi

So, here I sit, in Mysore India, it’s 90 degrees. My family is home in Connecticut sleeping as there is ten and a half hours and 80 degrees cooler(brrr!) between us. I’m gone from their daily routines for a total of 38 days while I immerse in study, in my yoga practice at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Institute. I adore my family, yet left, albeit briefly in the large scheme of things, and they can’t quite understand why, and better yet, I have an extremely difficult time putting it into a coherent rational explanation.

They all see me going to practice six days a week. I hope they feel the peace and grounded mindfulness it brings me and ideally my interactions with all of them. They have even all at minimum tried it! My husband has been going with greater regularity and though he states it makes him feel good, he still doesn’t grasp my spiritual connection to the practice. That’s ok, because I do, and he respects that. It’s not a cult, I’m not worshipping a new diety, but I do pray each and every time I get on the mat, grateful for life, contentment, love, joy, and wonder. My practice is not always picture perfect, far from it, sometimes I’m stiff, in pain, annoyed, sad, impatient, frustrated, possibly even in tears, but I always feel better for the attempt, for the realization of my best effort of that day and that moment. Grateful for the energy and heat the sun salutations ignite all the way till the end of practice cooling down in rest where I’m ready to start the rest of my day.

I first felt a calling or whisper in my head saying go study a few years ago, I felt it was a pipe dream. Mysore is about as far from home as I could go. Eighteen hours of flying time( I abhor air travel), 6 hours of driving and a 3 hour stopover in Frankfort. My knowledge of India up to this point had been watching Slum Dog Millionaire, Magnolia Hotel, and Monsoon Wedding. As a recent addition, friends had recommended reading Culture Shock India and Shantaram: A Novel. I’m not a jet setter, though I have travelled, just no where in the Far East, it always had seemed a world away, too far off my comfortably beaten path. I should also add I’m somewhat of a homebody and have never, not once in my life lived alone, or been alone for more than a week, and that week was a tough one.

So why, why would I choose to leave my happy, stabile life for this? Why for missing my husband, my children, my dogs, my bed, fresh water, and a hot bath for a bucket shower, distilled water, and cow dung in the streets? To study ashtanga yoga Mysore style with Sharath at KPJAYI, to chant, to study the yoga sutras, take Sanskrit classes, to immerse without the daily minutiae, without any distractions and face my demons without the excuses that are all too easy in the life of a busy bustling family, because they are the most important pieces of my world. They are the people I love and cherish and live to be with and desire to be happy and healthy. Weather, homework, chores, running around, cooking, work, emotions, effect all of us all day everyday. I’m not running away from them, I desire all of it, and right now a big piece of me has a painful void missing it, yet I’m here, because another piece of me has been begging inside to delve deeper into my practice, to seek and understand those moments on the mat of what yoga truly brings, a stillness of the mind, exploring outside the comfort zone of security, structure, love, and home, no distractions just focus.

My husband worries about non-attachment, will I come back uncaring or cold? I don’t view it that way, non-attachment is not indifference nor does it mean that I would ever relinquish my very loving blessed life at home, but maybe it means I’ll learn to not stress as much about how everything turns out, maybe the negative emotions of worry and fear will fade away to allow me to be completely present, enjoying this moment without attachment to what comes or doesn’t come next. Knowing that all I can ever do, regardless of what happens is my best effort of that day and that moment. I do experience that at times before my brain starts on the list of what ifs, and yes thankfully I’ve added some decent tools to my inner toolbox to try and let them go as they arise inside, but hey I’m human like everyone else and it’s all just practice. For now, I hope and pray my family, who I miss beyond words, will be ok without me for this small period of time, because I know, that their days are longer in missing my presence. I send them loving thoughts and feel tremendous gratitude that they are doing the daily grind without me until April 5th.