The Happy Wanderer

2 February, 2012

As a little girl, I always loved the idea of travel. The concept that I could get on a plane and discover a new world was one I learned early in life, as the child of an international student doing her graduate studies in the US. Add to that the child-like wonder and fascination I fell every time I watch planes take off and land (like how do they get over 600,000lbs of metal, electronics and human beings off the ground? How? It’s an everyday miracle, in my mind). Step out of a plane and you have the opportunity to change your whole perspective on life.

I’m joyful every time I know travel is upcoming, I’m like the Happy Wanderer, who sings:

 I love to go a-wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.

That’s all I need really, my passport, a few essentials, and I’m off into the blue yonder, to find the treasure in the journey as well as in the destination.

Having made my first journey (pilgrimage?) to Mysore, India, I return to my island paradise home with a deep sense of gratitude, for all the things I have, the privileges I take for granted, and the resources I have at my disposal without really even thinking about it.   Who knew I’d miss my soft bed and bathtub so much? For all the things I miss about about Gokulam, there are an equal number of things I treasure about being in Jamaica. The thing  is I’m truly aware, and equally aware of the instances where I and my contemporaries are guilty of forgetting our blessings.

I’m humbled when I can see the 8 x 10 foot shacks that the average family of 6 in Bombay must share, and that there is a cadre of 400,000 people directly associated with washing and drying ALL the laundry for a city of 22 million ( this is just the accounted-for population; I’m told there’s an additional 40%). I now just smile when I think of the Hindu cows who would stroll contentedly down streets, while pedestrians and motorists alike struggled to stay out of their way. I understand the value of one rupee. I’ve seen equal parts of pain and triumph, a sense of accepting one’s karma and striving for the best one can do at the same time. It makes me realize that each country has its travails and challenges, and that no place is perfect.

Sweet Jamaica is no more, no less than any other nation, but I think that some of its people have forgotten what they have (I shared this sentiment with a student this morning, who also happens to be a Member of Parliament and he felt the very same – “the hand-out mentality makes me so sad” he said), a sense of ennui and entitlement has replaced the enterprising spirit and enduring determination that I grew up appreciating was an earmark of being Jamaican.

Would that we too can learn the lessons of this life. Would that we could recapture that gratitude for everything and that diligent way of pushing through to the finish. Like doing your practice and making it, breath by breath to the end. Like seeing how other people live and being grateful for what you have, rather than comparing it to the lifestyle of others. Like really recognizing that happiness is a spiritual practice you can tap into each and every day.

Ever grateful
SWWW

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This post is early, for two reasons. First, I’m off to lunch to say goodbye to my teachers Kino Macgregor and Tim Feldmann (they’re off to Goa to teach a workshop, isn’t the yoga life great? Certainly when you’re gifted, devoted and proficient practitioners who are blessed by Sharath to teach) and then going out to a Lyme tonight, so I didn’t want to post too late (like I’m on some sort of schedule, eh?)

The second reason is the more important, and it’s that I learned a practical lesson of commitment between yesterday and today than I wanted to note down and share. The lesson is “if you give your word, it must mean something”. Simple, right? You’re thinking “THAT’s the rest lesson?” but what I mean is, as small as a task is, or as insignificant a promise, keep it. Try. This is commitment in action. I learned this by not keeping my word yesterday. The situation is simple enough, I was supposed to meet a new friend at the coconut stand (I had asked her to follow ME somewhere), but yesterday I was exhausted and flaky, and overslept and didn’t show. Sometimes we never know how our actions impact others, but when we ask, the truth can be sobering. I saw my friend at practice this morning, and she was forgiving, but her energy was somehow different (I’m sensitive enough, even as blockheaded and tired as I was after Sharath smilingly battered us in Led Primary, which was good – I didn’t tell you Ashtanga practitioners really go hard? 😉 ). I asked her, and she said she was indeed annoyed at my no-show, given that I had asked HER and not the other way around, and that she gave up the opportunity to do other things, waiting on me. The ultimate facepalm. I felt (and still feel) so bad about it. It’s as if you can’t apologize enough. She was so gracious about it, saying “don’t feel bad, we talked it out, cleared the air, and now we both know”. I know this, but how I feel now is teaching me “this is another reason that you’re here, why you do this practice, to learn to be immaculate with your word, and if you cannot be, make the effort to honour the other party in some other way”

Tough lesson, I’m still a bit watery about it. She was far more compassionate about it than I’m being now, but then I’m really hard on myself, and sometimes it’s good to be. As simple and inconsequential as this may be in the scheme of things, say in comparison to flaking on a big assignment or betraying a loved one’s trust, the principle still holds. Be immaculate (the ICHS girls are gonna love this one), when you say you’ll do something, do it. Honour the people you know, old friends and new. Treat all equally with the respect and love you’d want for yourself. This is a tenet of yoga, far more important than if I ever get my ankles in backbending or perform the perfect arm balance. As Sharath says, asana is the scaffolding of the living, breathing practice, but the scaffolding alone is not the building.

Gone to forgive myself

Ever grateful
SWWW

So…today is Saturday. That means rest day and an opportunity to do errands. It’s nice to go about my business, walking to the supermarket, shopping, getting my toes done…not unlike what I’d be doing at home in Kingston. There is a good feeling in just being a student, walking around, treasuring the little differences I see everyday, the drawings in chalk on the sidewalks that represent offerings to the householders’ deity of tradition, the completely-relaxed cow sauntering down the street, knowing no fear (because people would rather crash into into each other than hit a cow), the pushpamalas, floral garlands for puja (worship)…little things I might not have appreciated, had I just been a harried tourist, just looking for the “important things to see”.

And yesterday? Ooh, practice (led) was good once I decided to honour my shoulder and not lift up to jump back or try to float all my jump-throughs. Yoga is deeper than just exercise or poses you do, it begins to answer your unasked questions, if you simply listen. After another huge breakfast (dark chocolate pancakes, anyone?), there was chanting class, and then I met a friend from my YTT in Negril, went for lunch, book-shopping and then dinner – then had to hightail it in a rickshaw back to Gokulam to meet some friends to go for a lyme…it was great, ppl from Jamaica, South Korea, Costa Rica, Argentina, Poland, Australia, Mexico, Sweden…all in Mysore because of their love for yoga, good times…when we were leaving, my fellow countrymen got into a little tiff (you can always rely on a Jamaican man’s ego and a Jamaican woman’s mouth to start a riot – LOL), awkward…cold LONG rickshaw ride home, ad then the facety driver refuses to take us home, insisting “meter finished”…it was only when he realised that we were walking far farther than he’d dropped us (at midnight, no less) and he could have made some more from the fare, that he tried to catch up with us…at which point I was like “no, you trying to hustle us”…one of the dudes with us walked us girls home and that was that.

I’m off practice for the next two days to honour my womanly nature (subtle, aren’t I?) – it actually helps the body heal, and is a part of the greater practice to abstain from asana to observe and respect the body’s natural patterns. And before anyone works up a full-feminist-rant head of steam, try to understand that I’m thinking of me, my own rhythms, my own patterns, how to help heal my shoulder, and how to detach my sense of worth from the number of times per week that I practice dropping back into backbends or jumping back from crow pose. Again, yoga is more than the asanas you do, it’s about listening, surrendering, and trusting in your intrinsic, divine self. And this isn’t easy, my ego wants to, it whispers seductive “your shoulder doesn’t feel so bad, go practice anyway, no one will know”. But I will know, and the lesson for me today is discipline (in restraint as well as in action) and surrender to the potential power of this amazing practice, that I have only just scraped the surface of.

Ever grateful
SWWW

Day 15 – a little fear…

12 January, 2012

Crept into my practice today…the tendinitis  in my right shoulder was making itself WELL felt today – normally I can exit Supta Kurmasana (a posture in which the practitioner is face down, with both feet crossed behind the head and the arms bound behind the back to secure the thighs close to the torso) and do the jumpback but today my shoulder said “not gonna happen”.  Thank goodness I can suspend my ego to really listen to my body….but in dropping back, I was tired and worried about it and fell in my last attempt to stand up, right in front of Saraswati.  She said “oh!” but helped me do one more, and then helped me walk in to my feet.  I’m glad tomorrow is Led class, so I can go easier on myself.

After practice, we had coconut jelly and then breakfast at Anohki’s – I was HUNGRY and consumed an omelette AND crepes – what, don’t JUDGE me, I’m a growing girl – and then I came home and knocked right out

Whats the lesson today? Can I get back to you on that one? Right now I’m thinking of the best, most sustainable path to healing 🙂

Have faith…then leap

1 December, 2011

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.  And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes insearch of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”     Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist”

So goes my favourite line of one of my favourite books, and now I go even further in discovering myself and my Personal Legend – Ashtanga, India, teaching, writing, taking more responsibility for the adult I’d like to think I’m becoming.

I haven’t written in a while, hiding from my most honest way of expressing myself – no excuses, just write more

I will

Each morning I go through a ritual of sorts to convince myself to get out of my comfortable bed and go practice on my mat….there are few things that make me feel more alive and aware than when I’m doing asana…but I won’t lie to you, I’m no morning person.

I practice in the morning because it is the best time for me to do so (aside from the fact that you get the clean, cool morning air, your body is stronger and you benefit from having to stretch muscles that have stiffened up during the inertia of sleep) – I work a full-time day job and teach most evenings – but for me, the biggest challenge is getting out of that perfect spot in the bed, when the room is the perfect temperature, and all is good and wonderful in the universe. I have often wondered what that means “Am I really an undisciplined person underneath?” “Do I truly love what I do?” Believe me, I LOVE to practice, and 15 minutes into it, no matter how groggy I was when I awake or how many time I think “my bed is calling me back right now”, I know for sure “This is where I’m meant to be, in this very moment”

I say all of this to say that we don’t always have the reason that we practice in sharp and clear focus, sometimes just to practice IS the reason. This is particularly true when you hit a point when a posture isn’t “working” for you; though the most immediate response may, borne of frustration, be “I don’t want to do this”, push through anyway, give it your best love and attention in that moment, but try not to tie your own worth as a human being to it. Making yoga a sustainable part of your life means two things and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (on of THE foremost treatises on the philosophy of yoga) says it best:

  1. Practice (abhyasa) – means having the attitude of persistence to find peace in the practice, practice must be done consistently and over a long period of time in order for the practitioner to reap its ripest fruit. This means you have to get up and try, even when the bed seems a better option but it also means that you should have a sustainable relationship with your practice, guilt and resentment have no place here. At the same time, your practice shouldn’t be, as Kino put it, “this all-or-nothing thing that you feel you have to do”. Assess who you are and what you feel like each day, do your very honest best and then let go of your expectation of what you think that practice should be, which leads me to:
  2. Non-attachment (vairagya) – the ability to let go of any attachments, fears, desires and delusions you might have about the practice and why you do it. This means that for however long you’re on the mat, make the effort to suspend you ego, certainly the part of it that says “I did this yesterday, why can’t I now?” or “I should be able to do this by now” and just enjoy what it is that you do. Come to your mat with no pre-conceived notions of yourself, begin with the breath and end with the breath.

I wanted to share these two principles because they underscore why I love yoga so much, and because I have dedicated my practice to a woman who gave her final breath on Wednesday night, having spent so much time in the service and love of others. She was sweet, giving and quite frankly, extraordinary. She will be missed. I will love and remember her always. RIP Aunty G.

We come into this life on an inhale and leave it on an exhale, but rarely do we pay attention to the breaths between. When we apply the discipline of practice with the ease of non-attachment, we find that our practice can soar to its highest height and plumb its greatest depth. On the days when you have doubt, fear and guilt, remember this, and let THAT be your purpose

with love

SWWW