Friday, January 7, 2011

New Year’s Eve, A Ritual Surrendering

Despite the multitude of non-yoga related activities that made the 31st very special, from sunning by the pool, drinks (ok, one drink! We didn’t go too crazy!) at the Metropole, ringing in 2011 with a raging kerosene induced bonfire at The Green Hotel, finding an after midnight rooftop party with dancing, and capping the early morning off with singing Bob Marley and Lennon standards to guitar playing and a rather unorthodox music sheet filing system, my favorite was the post-sunset trip to Chamundi Hill, where I squeezed into a rickshaw with three lovely ladies to make a New Year’s offering to the Goddess Chamundeswari.

It was Deva’s idea. We would go to the temple, bring puja, and have a little private ceremony to discard the old and make affirmations for the new year. Deborah and myself took to it right away and committed ourselves to the pre-party endeavor as an auspicious way to start the New Year. At the last moment, we bullied Ursula into our rickshaw and she became the fourth member in out trek up to Chamundi.

We might have missed the sunset, but the early night sky was nice too. It was a cool night. And it had a feel of possibility, as the lights from the city started to twinkle below.

Deva, ever a beautiful devi herself, made sure we each had a wicker basket of temple puja. As I stared down at mine, a colorful cartoon face stared back at me, two coconuts for eyes, banana nose and a wicker smile. The flower topping the pretty offering sprung up between the coconuts—like an ornate bindi, we’re in India after all.

When we got to the temple, however, the great goddess was closed for another half an hour. We decided to then make our way to the smaller Shiva temple just a little walk from the temple of Chamundeswari. It seemed apt, to burn our past cycles in the home of the great destroyer. Every beginning has an end, and ours would start here at the temple of Lord Shiva, the god of yoga.

The moment we entered the small enclave, we all knew we had made the right decision. There was none of the people that crowded the entrance of Chamundi’s main temple. Instead, there was peace and quiet. The temple looked ethereal, lit up against the night sky. I was struck with a new appreciation for these structures made out of these massive stones. They seemed much holier in the moonlight.

We were the only ones there. The temple priests ushered us in the coconut breaking area, there was even a sign that designated it so. One attendant took each of our cocos, cracking them open against the metal sharp edge at the center of the massive container that caught all the coconut water.

In the temple, they took the puja baskets to the priests within, it was returned short half a coconut. Shiva’s share. We were told to draw a short chalky line across our foreheads, which we did for each other. Having had finished our obligation to Shiva, we found a serene spot behind the temple where we sat and started our own little ritual of letting go and starting anew.

We each had two sheets of paper, one for the things we want to let go of and another for the things we want to let in. We wrote and wrote and wrote, each filling our sheets with our hang-ups and our heart’s desires, a personal reminder of our intentions for the fast approaching new year.

The things we wanted to let go, we burnt. We watched it crumple and disappear into ash, our lit incense sticks stoking the miniature fire, fueled by the toxins of the things that no longer served us.

The things we wanted to let in went into envelopes, which would stay in Deva’s safe-keeping until the following New Year, when she would post it to us, wherever we might be.

We arranged the remaining puja at the back of the table for Shiva and, possibly, the monkeys. Thus started our celebration of New Year’s Eve, a burning followed by a celebration, a death followed by a rebirth.

At the time, we all felt moved. Speaking from my own experience, it was an important moment to really take stock as well as commit to the things I feel are currently important in my life.

And even now, especially now a week into the new year and less than a week before leaving Mysore (sadly, I have been unable to stop counting the days), I feel the potency of our new year’s eve ritual.

Every day since that night, I seem to be unraveling. The practice continues to be strong and powerful, but I feel a little bit like I’m falling apart. I’ve totally lost my voice and I am really tired. Emotions that I’ve long locked away somewhere deep within seems to be suddenly bubbling up to the surface. In private (and very occasionally in public too) there are waterworks.

The ironic thing is a week ago, I felt quite cocky that I had somehow managed to more or less make it through this entire trip emotionally and physically unscathed. Nothing major, just a little freak out. Some back pain. But otherwise, no tears shed in the shala, no panic attacks at back-bending, I was cool, perfectly happy.

And while I remain happy, there is something going on in me that I can only attribute to some inexplicable heart opening, which is a part of this incredible practice, especially here in Mysore. It is happening quite on its own and it is completely outside the range of my powers to control, which considering that I am a closet control freak, is a little hard to take.

But take it I must. With this falling apart, I see the promise of coming back together, better, more whole, more honestly me.

(Aside: Unfortunately there are no photos of our New Year antics as my camera was on a trip quite without me back from a Gurukulam at Pandeshwara--where I had originally hoped to be for the long weekend. But when I asked Sharath (apparently informing him would have been a better way to go) if it would be ok if I took the Thursday led off for the trip, his recommendation was to not go on account that the long travel would "hurt your back." As I sat there, hiding my disappointment, hmmm I thought it was the practice that was hurting my back. He added that since I had only 3 weeks to go, I should stay. What could I do? It was like him saying "you do!" in the shala. So I did -- not go. He was right, of course. The 8-hour bus journey may have done a number on my back. It's nice to know that he cares too. More than anything, though, I'm glad I stuck around to have this very special moment.)

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