One day I’ll grow up, I’ll be a beautiful woman.
One day I’ll grow up, I’ll be a beautiful girl.
But for today I am a child, for today I am a boy.
One day I’ll grow up, I’ll feel the power in me.
One day I’ll grow up, of this I’m sure
One day I’ll grow up, I’ll know a whom within me.
One day I’ll grow up, feeling full and pure.
But for today I am a child, for today I am a boy.” ~For Today I Am a Boy, Antony & The Johnsons
I haven’t really felt much like writing here recently. People have been asking, but every time I have opened my computer to write I’ve felt… I don’t know what the right word is. Reluctant. I write on this thing incredibly infrequently and I usually write something in order to help my thoughts and feelings to come together. Something about putting everything together into a somewhat cohesive piece of writing helps me to understand myself and what I am experiencing more fully, and often gives me a kind of closure that helps me to process whatever’s been bouncing around inside of my own skull. If other people read it and it strikes a nerve with them (or if they even understand what I’m saying at all) then that’s a major plus. Still, I am really just talking to myself in a semi-public forum here.
Over the past two months or so, however, I’ve been having some fairly intense experiences. It sort of feels like I am missing a layer of emotional skin meant to protect me. These experiences, whether the intensely beautiful or the deeply painful, have felt extremely private. The world has become, over the past decade or so, simultanously exibitionistic and vouyerisitc. I am not terribly interested in the on-going debate over social media and its harmfulness/usefulness in present day society. I have my opinions and I am sure everyone else has theirs. However, from my personal vantage point I’ve felt a need to get quieter and quieter as things seem to be reaching a fevered pitch. More than that, I’ve come to feel that sharing certain experiences can change my own perception of them. One way or another, there are certain things that simply cannot be related in a narrative. Something – some of the essence of the thing that makes it special – will always be lacking. So bear with me as I try to share some things and not share others.
I arrived in Mysore a little under seven weeks ago. I came here to practice with R. Sharath Jois at the KPJAYI, but to say it like that sounds so straight forward and it was anything but that. I came here after spending just one month here last November. One month, which I spent grieving and letting things out in order to make space in my heart. There were people, places and ideas of what it meant to do this practice wedged so deeply inside of me that there wasn’t room for light, or breath, let alone the space to allow new experiences to creep in. I officially came here to find out if Sharath was to be my teacher, but I was hedging as I sort of knew that there was no way for that to happen in 31 days. Yes, I came home with a deeper sense of what the practice of Ashtanga Yoga was to me, and how to slowly, slowly begin to unravel it. It was a different perspective than I’d had before and one that can’t exactly be qualified or quantified. I just understood the essence of the thing I’d been doing every day for years in a new and extremely powerful way. I also left feeling absolutely compelled to come back the next year, which secretly terrified me.
I arrived this year with a whole new set of doubts. I had just turned 35, which for some reason still seems like a profound number to me. Realizing that I had to come here every year in order to get closer to the bottom of this thing (and I say closer because I doubt that I’ll see the bedrock of this practice in this lifetime), meant wrestling with what that would mean for my marriage, my financial situation and my future family life. Sacrifice. There was going to be some sacrifice necessary. Sacrifice is not a bad thing, so I don’t mean to make it sound like it is. It’s simply a narrowing of options that leads to a deeper commitment and more intense focus on that which we choose to focus our attention upon. Moreover, I was going to have to finally allow myself to redefine what a “real adult life” actually looks like for myself. To accept that there was no prescribed way to live.
This year, with my two months almost gone by now, so much has happened in such a relatively short time. Last year being in India was so new to me, so exciting and overwhelming, that I looked at it in a very different way. This year, although I am renting in Gokulam (an area that people call “the Beverly Hills of Mysore”, and that does cater to the influx of western students every year) I have found India to be more challenging. Going to the city everyday on my scooter for chanting I’ve found it harder and harder to ignore certain things. Interactions between the sexes are different and I am prone to blundering, as much as I try to respect the culture. Forgetting and paying with the wrong hand, fighting myself not to offer my hand in a handshake to the men I interact with in the market and at stores. Respecting that the style of communicating is different as well and that no one is under any obligation to bend themselves to my comfort. They are all little things but they mean something. It means something to me, and I want to show respect for the fact that I am a guest while I am here. All while trying not to get ripped off! It is tricky, indeed.
The contrasts here between the haves and the have nots are so incredibly stark. It scares me a little that I am getting better at brushing past women and children begging, following me while motioning for food and shoving their hands in my face as I walk into a restaurant to grab lunch. Still, there are specific faces that don’t leave me for days. Dark eyes, set in small faces. It’s the same with the animals here. Even the lucky and relatively well cared for ones near the Shala, break my heart. Every day there’s another motherless puppy, another dog hobbling along on 3 legs after being hit by a car, another cow eating plastic bags out of the trash. Suffering truly exists everywhere in the world, but here it is more transparent than at home. It’s an honest place in that way. It often makes me cry, makes me question why and what my response to what I am seeing should be. Walking through another culture with grace, living here but not really, can be challenging. It’s also an incredible opportunity for self reflection and learning to sit in discomfort rather than blindly reacting to it. Practicing; always practicing.
And here’s where the personal, private aspect of this post happens. I don’t want to get into the specific details, because they feel like something I should keep for myself. Besides, for the most part they would seem like mundane occurrences devoid of the real essence of the experience to anyone but me. It’s sort of like when I met my husband and I couldn’t stop thinking about the way he brushed the hair out of his eyes, or how what I miss the most about my grandfather is the way he smelled like a combination of Old Spice and Downey. Those details, the mundane stuff, is where the real magic in life can be found. It is the same in practicing with a teacher. It’s not these big “breakthroughs” that make them your teacher. It’s a series of tiny moments, day in and day out over the course of years and years, that help guide you from the darkness into your own light. Somehow I feel absolutely certain that however long it took me to get here, however crooked and winding the path, I am in the place where I need to be. I am being steeped in the perspective on this practice that feels the best to me. And that I am here with the person I want to learn it from. I have felt seen, and that’s no small thing. I have been able to trust, and to finally relax and let go. Non-grasping.
So, I guess this is where I am, with less than two weeks left here. Renting a trunk to store my things, and crossing my fingers that my application will be accepted next year. Thankfully, my husband is always incredibly supportive and he understands that this is where my focus needs to be. He’s supportive of me coming again. Even though I know it’s hard on him when I’m away, he accepts that this is going to be a part of our lives now. We will do our best to get me here in the various stages of our lives, and maybe he’ll even be able to come one day. We will “figure it out” as we go along, this wonderful man tells me. Those are not exactly the words a control freak like myself likes to hear. Actually, it’s probably exactly what I need to hear. This is a long term commitment and, just like practice, it will require flexibility as well as dedication. I am content that I have learned and understood a little bit more, and that I will keep coming and keep learning. There is no express train. There is no check list, no number of hours to complete. That’s not how this works. Your practice is for your whole life, right? It extends beyond the two hours of morning you devote to asana. You simply have to keep showing up and remain open.
Next year will present similar challenges and opportunities, as well as some new ones. I will be the same person, but I will be different as well. God willing, I will make it back here next fall. In the meantime, I am really ready to hug my husband, have a good cuddle with my dogs and eat some raw Kale.