learning stillness

Practicing every day


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What A Day…

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Drawn specially in the courtyard at Odanadi for Children’s Day.

I am homesick right now. More accurately, I am husband and dog sick. When I left twelve days ago I was nervous. (Wow, has it really been twelve days already? Has it only been twelve days?) I imagined I would miss my husband at times that I felt lonely or scared. I wondered how it would be without someone I trusted completely, someone who I knew for certain loved me, there with me when I felt unsteady. There have been plenty of moments when I’ve felt vulnerable and hesitant, but in the short time I’ve been here I’ve been shocked by the amount of strength and self-reliance this place has helped me find. I realize more and more that I am brave and strong and capable. I doubt myself less and less as the days march forward. Much to my surprise it’s not when I feel weak or beaten down that I miss my husband the most; I miss him the most in the best moments. I miss having my partner to share those moments with.

Today was one of the best days. I had a really amazing practice this morning. I was able to wake up a few hours early, to the sound of the call to prayer wafting over from the Muslim neighborhood. I love waking up to that sound in my cool, dark room here. I had time to meditate, shower and enjoy one very small cup of coffee before I headed out to the shala. During drop backs, as I was being taken to my ankles, I started to panic. My brain got all fuzzy and my breath caught in my chest for a moment when the word “surrender” came to me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I got here. Surrendering to India, to practice, and maybe one day to life. So in that moment I did. I just surrendered to the experience and the assist. For a few moments it was completely quiet in my head. Wow. After I closed, I went out front and drank two coconuts,  which still makes me smile. Then I had a lovely breakfast out with my housemate and a friend.

It was Children’s Day today, so I went to Odanadi for their celebration, which I was invited to the last time I was there. This was no ordinary trip out, though. Today I rode the scooter for the first time, outside of the tiny practice runs I’ve been doing in Gokulam. Driving of any kind in India scares the hell out of me, particularly since I’ve only been on a scooter one or two times in the states, and not in any real traffic. To an extent, my fears are totally rational. People here drive by some unseen set of rules. It’s organized chaos, and you are supposed to drive on the opposite side from what I am used to, just to top it all off. However, it’s getting quite expensive to pay for a rickshaw to take me the 15 -20 minute ride out to Odanadi and then pay them to wait before returning me home. I got the scooter a week ago, but then I hesitated. I practiced and started slowly, but then I started to drag my feet. While I’ve hesitated, my rational fears have mutated into a full blown fear monster. Just the thought of driving was making my stomach hurt. I know this feeling. I’ve been here before and it does not get better or go away. Over time, I just become more and more paralyzed and the fear migrates, oozing from one new experience to another, filling me with self doubt.

Around noon I set off. My heart was pounding and my mind went kind of fuzzy, just like this morning. Instinctively, I started to recite the Maha Mantra in my head as I made my way on to Contour Road and something really magical happened. Flow. I surrendered. I surrendered to the holes in the road and the noise and later, as I crossed over from paved roads to sand, gravel and huge ditches, I wasn’t afraid. I was cautious and aware, but the paralysis that comes with  fear was gone. The monster had been banished. I arrived safely at the front gate.

Odanadi was amazing today. All the children were there, from the boys and girls homes, all dressed in colors and smiles. There were games and cultural programs and they had prepared bisi billa bath (a spicy rice and veggie dish that originated here in Karnataka) and curd. It was awesome. The afternoon was indescribably beautiful and I was honored to be there. The only thing missing was my partner to share it with and my dogs to come home to.

This morning, Sharath’s kids were in the shala for a short time and  he made an off handed comment to those of us waiting to start about “no family, no fun.” I kept thinking about that all the way home. It’s really true for me. I love it here and I am eager to come back, but I will always be more eager to return home. That’s where I can always let go.


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Echos in Mysore

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I have a few ideas for posts brewing in my brain, but I can’t seem to find a way to get them to coalesce. Perhaps it’s because India, even here in beautiful Gokulam, is a mass of contradictions and dichotomies. I think I will have a lot more to say in a more succinct fashion after some time has passed, but that it won’t be until I’m home and I can fully appreciate this experience. Until then, I have a few thoughts, experiences, and photos to share.

I landed in Bangalore on November 3rd, which was the second night of Diwali. I was picked up and taken to Mysore, a four hour drive away. As promised, the ride was more like a rocket ship taking off into another world. There was a seeming lack of rules on the road, and yet somehow everything worked out. There were near misses and moments where I took flight off of my seat because of deep holes in the roads, and to top it all off, the entire country seemed to be outside playing music, eating delicious smelling treats from street vendors and lighting the night sky with  fireworks. I arrived at a serviced apartment (read – transitional housing for newbies) at midnight and struggled to fall asleep as kids set off crackers outside my window until the wee hours.

The next morning I went to Anu’s Cafe (FYI, Anu and Ganesh are a Mysore treasure. Eat her food and look to him for help with accommodations.) I was there to drop off some supplies for Operation Shanti and to eat my first meal in almost a day. Ganesh told me there were no houses available at the moment, but by the time I was done at the buffet I was told to hop on the back of a young man’s motorcycle to see something that had just come up two blocks from the shala and we were off. Withing 20 minutes I was paying an older gentleman of about 80 for my month’s rent. 15 minutes later a rickshaw came and took me to my new Mysore home. That same evening I found myself on the roof top watching fireworks with that same man, a retired doctor who reminds me a lot of my own grandfather, aside from his occasional lapses into Kannada (the local dialect), and his ten year old grand daughter. It was the Fourth of July and Christmas all rolled into one. Familiar and yet totally foreign. Strangers who echoed of family. IMG_0624

The next morning  was my first practice at the KPJAYI and there was Sharath, so familiar to my eyes and ears and yet a total stranger. I was a beginner all over again, from my return to a daily Primary Series practice to my feeling of being totally lost when it came to the customs and culture of this community. (Thankfully, a new friend clued me into “Shala Time”, which is exactly 15 minutes before your start time. Not before and not after. the clocks are even set ahead.) The funny thing is, that I already run my life according to “Shala Time.” I always aim to be 15 minutes early, and when I am right on time I feel late.

I cook a lot here. I shop with my friend, who I sort of knew before I came, but who I now simply adore and feel an inherent connection to. My house mates are awesome and they rarely cook, so I like to make and buy extras. We make chai a lot. It feels just like home in some ways.

I am chanting in the afternoons with Dr. Jayashree, and Dr. Narashimha does Yoga Sutra discussions after. They are both the best teachers I’ve ever had in their areas of expertise. It is not new to me, though. I’ve sat in this same kind of haphazard circle and stumbled over the more complex Sutras many times before; repeating, repeating, repeating.

Today was my first Led Primary. I cannot begin to describe the energy in that room. During daily Mysore practice and during led. Mysore Magic indeed. There really is nothing like it. Still, it’s more like I’m stepping into the deep end of the same pool. Sharath was very funny today. Or maybe I am just getting more and more comfortable here, and therefore more able to laugh.

Last night I went to Odanadi and met some of the young girls and women I am going to be volunteering with. As we drove further away from Gokulam the scenery changed. The people were much poorer and there were more stray and hungry animals. It was a striking contrast to the world I’ve been living in the past week, only 20 minutes away. I find myself marveling at the inequities in life. It makes me want to fight  harder and give up all at the same time. And that feeling is certainly not strange to me either. Back home, in Philadelphia, I’ve encountered those same feelings when I was working with the children and adolescents that the rest of the city seemes to have forgotten about. I  found myself struggling with all the gifts I’ve received in life, and wondering if I even deserve them when there are so many who have received so few. Then there were the young women I met at Odanadi. They were beautiful and bright and they made me feel so welcome. They made me laugh and they told me about their studies and their plans for the future. When I think about the circumstances they have endured, it makes me feel angry an helpless and scared. Again, these are not new feelings. They are so familiar. So, maybe what this experience has given me, above all other things, is the opportunity to see myself clearly via a totally new setting. To see what changes and what remains the same in a place that feels so foreign, but maybe isn’t really that different after all.

I love it here. There is so much to be learned, and so much yoga to be practiced. I think maybe the thing I am most grateful for is that I have the opportunity to practice not only at the source of this amazing and beautiful tradition, but also to spend the rest of my day continuing my practice in various contexts. “Whole life is practice. That is the method.”

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