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

Day 21 – Finding my feet

18 January, 2012

Today practice was good, right up til Backbending, which for me is a great challenge. Moving into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow, or Wheel pose) itself isn’t so much the tricky bit, I’ve learned how to be patient and allow my shoulders and back to let me know when they’re ready for me to test them a little more each day, I’ve overcome the fear of falling and of the potential embarrassment (clearly resident only in my own mind, for every teacher I’ve encountered in learning this pose has shown me far more compassion and understanding than I’ve shown myself), what remains is the ability to stand up from this pose consistently.

A word before I go further, Ashtanga isn’t about any ONE asana, it’s not about doing the ones you like and avoiding the hard stuff, it’s about finding your deepest, truest self on and off the mat, patiently, quietly, breath by breath, posture by posture, dristi by dristi.

With that said, I’m now clearly aware of what Wheel Pose and standing up are trying to show me about myself, on and off the mat. For me, it’s about finding my foundation and seeing things through. Today when I did my first drop back and came up, Sharath was there, he said “very good”, I explained that I wasn’t getting the posture consistently, and he said “too much thinking, just focus on the asana”, then he watched me do the same thing and said “If you don’t have your legs, you can’t come up”. How true, other teachers have told me this “press into your legs, use the strength of your thighs and pelvis, feel as if you’re grounding through the earth. Perfect advice for airy-fairy me. It’s more than a physical thing. I find commitment a hard concept to process, even the idea of purchasing furniture is frightening for me, I try never to hold onto things or people, for that matter. But I need grounding and balance, or I will surely drift away on the first breeze to Never-Never land. I’m a good starter of things, always make a good impression, but I become easily bored, and don’t finish as strongly. This has hurt me, personally and professionally, and comes not from a fear of failing, but being completely completely frightened of my potential. Yes, strange, I’m working on it, letting myself truly shine. I’ll get there.

This is why I think Backbending comes where it does in the practice, it’s the last really strong outpouring of effort you make before you can ease up and relax a bit into the soothing flow of Finishing postures. It says “store your energy, finish strong, know where your feet are, commit and seal your practice”. I love that, I love that it took me 3 weeks to get it, to really get that message. I now find myself thinking “I want to be diligent in my practice, aware of my body, relax when my tendency is to panic, and above all, push into my foundations (physical, mental and spiritual) and as Sharath said “make your legs straight as you can and strong and PUSH with your hands”. I want to stand up on my own two feet and find the peace in the lesson this posture, and this mighty practice and lineage are here to teach me. And I believe if I just keep doing it, keep trying, keep committing, keep with faith and the 4Ds (dedication, devotion, discipline and determination, especially the last one) that I will.

Wow, that felt good to say out loud 🙂

Ever thankful
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

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

On the eve of Yoga Month

31 August, 2010

Here’s the truth, people…I haven’t done a full practice in AGES (like 3 weeks), just trying to heal my left knee, which I managed to torque somehow, overdoing something when my nutty (read “schizophrenic”) left hip wasn’t ready. The result?? SEARING pain when I bent my knee, that means sitting, standing, walking all were hurting…let ALONE lotus (lotus??? whatever is that?). My body cried “Stop” while my mind argued “you can do this, forget the pain, you KNOW the right techniques now”….guess what won? Guess what ALWAYS does and will?

They say that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, whilst expecting a different result or rather…let’s spin that on its ear….maybe TRUE intelligence means applying the techniques that you KNOW in the safest way possible to your body AS IT IS…not AS YOU IMAGINE IT or IN A PERFECT WORLD…just as it is. Prosaic? Maybe. True? Absolutely.

So I listened, I rested my body when it asked for it, I took the yoga inside and remembered what my teacher Greg Nardi said to me when I was at a particularly low point during an Ashtanga intensive I did (remind me to share more about that)…”Remember, Shakira”, he said, patience in his voice like he’d NEVER said it before “it’s a breathing practice”. And somehow it stuck, I got it, I slowed down and honoured what was happening and why and what I needed to change.

All of this I recall now as we head in to September, which is Yoga Month!!! Yay! Even as I challenge myself physically for EVERY ONE of the next 30 days (yes, EVERY DAY!), I’ll keep the thought “BREATHE” first and foremost in my mind, and for me it’s much bigger than words like “pranayama”, “Ujjayi” and “mula bandha” (don’t get me wrong, they’re important)…it means “Just breathe, no matter what, be still IN your breath, everything else will come”

“Do your practice”, Pattabhi Jois said, “and all is coming…” and you know what? I think I’m beginning to really see what Guruji meant

See you on the mat tomorrow!

love
SWWW