India Is Within
This is the first time in five years that I don’t make my annual migration to Mysore, India to see my teacher. It has been a very complex journey of acceptance, resilience, deep frustration, and inner realizations. Last year I cut my trip short. It had been a really emotionally challenging year between divorce, moving, falling in love, and starting a new life from scratch. I was excited to go and once I got there all I wanted was to come back, find a home, and start new. I wasn’t able to be present for the experience but because of it, I also really deepened my relationship to the spiritual side of Mysore, to the life there. I found prayer, connection to the moon, to Ganesh, to food, to all things that I had not given myself the space nor opportunity to appreciate during other trips.
This year my father got sick, so I decided to not go on my annual visit to india but instead use the time off from teaching and money to go visit my father back in Italy. When I decided this I thought it would be easy—a year, after all, is not a long time. I was actually slightly relieved. Sometimes Mysore itself can feel overwhelmingly like yoga summer camp, like you are ignoring the real world. It can feel fanatical too, depending on what you choose to do in your time off. For me, going to Mysore is a time to turn off from reality and deal with empty space, empty time. To drop the teacher role, and be a student. It’s where most of my personal growth happens.
Turns out that it has not been so easy. A year is a long time. When registration opened and some of our students started asking me questions about applying, I started to feel a deep calling in my belly. I felt really connected to Sharath through that time. I felt and wondered what it must have been like for my own teachers here at home (Barbara, Kristin, and Eddie) each time they saw me go off while they tended to their responsibilities at home. I felt grateful for their support. I felt old, as if my time had passed too early and all the sudden my duty was now to hold space for people and give what my Guru has given me over these past five years: presence.
Initially my practice started to get heavy. I lost faith in the daily routine of it, because I no longer felt I had a moment ahead of me to look forward to. I felt like I would not get my batteries recharged with wisdom, and that the wisdom I receive my spending time assisting and practicing under the guidance of Sharathji would dry up and I would fail myself and my students. I was reminded of the time when a student in Msyore asked Guruji about having doubt. His answer was: “Doubt should come always. No doubt then how can you find a solution. If you want to learn then doubt should come within you. Slowly, slowly you can be in it, then it will vanish.”
So with that in mind I went back to see my teacher Eddie Stern. I decided that would be my Mysore this year. A space away from the space where I am a teacher. Where I could cultivate fire in my practice, keep it alive, keep my mind focused, clean and sharp. Feel guided in asana practice, so I don’t slag. I realized that being too soft, and accepting with oneself can lead to mental sluggishness and laziness.
I also decided that if I wasn't going to see my teacher physically, I would bring him to me by evoking him on a daily basis with the opening chant before teaching. So every morning when I step into the room I take a moment to envision myself in that magical space, I evoke the memory of the smell of the room, the sound of the people breathing, the sound of the office door opening, I see Guruji stand with his feet out to the side, his sweat towel around the waist, his hands in prayer in front of his upper chest, and the sound of his chant. I chant keeping that clear vision in the eye of my mind and heart. I teach with him at my side. I put on the sweat towel, I set up a chair just like he has, and I sit and watch the way he does. When all those things are in place I feel this presence and guidance there in the room with me, and I come to appreciate the strength of the parampara lineage in this practice. Guru shisha parampara is the way we learn. It is a passing down of knowledge that happens only when a student spends long time with full devotion close to his Guru. As Sharathji says “Guru takes us towards jnana, wisdom, the real knowledge. Guru removes ignorance and takes us to the brightness. In guru shisha parampara the student also has some responsibility.”
In Mysore, you practice and deal with empty time. Guruji preaches resting, not taking too many classes, other than what is offered at the Shala. He does this because he wants us to keep a clear mind, to keep a steady dristhi. As he says, “Dristhi is to take the attention inside.” There is something really profound in not having anything to do, to be forced to face stillness and empty space. It’s scary but empowering. I miss that tremendously. No matter how hard I try to do that here, it’s impossible to not be pulled by the senses in city life. I notice my mind continuously running and grasping at the next thing to do,buy, read, cook. I miss the sound of the Muslim chants in the early hours of the morning, I miss my bucket shower, I miss complaining that I have to wash my clothes by hand and throw them to the floor fifty times to get the water out. I think about Arjuna on the battlefield, having to trust Krishna and his words. Having that deep devotion to duty.
I realize now that the things I complain about when there are the things I miss the most. The activities that take me out of my reality and that immerse me in the reality of India. I miss having endless time to watch my mind run around, and eventually finding its way to slow down. I miss the resistance and the anger that living in India sometimes can bring to surface, the challenge of letting go.
In the distance and in the not knowing, I realize the importance of relationship to Guru, and what Guru stands for. Guru is light, Guru is wisdom. Guru is removing avidya, ignorance, the ignorance that comes from mistaking the nature of the soul with that of the body. There is a deep connection that now I understand in Guruji’s (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois) students, that never dies, no matter the physical distance, and it inspires each one of us that have been touched by their light to keep the practice alive, to get up and practice, to get up and teach.