Monday, February 8, 2016

between dark and light

Post practice chai means seeing the sky change from dark to light. 

It's Saturday, after Led Primary, the first batch. We come out of the shala and it is pretty much as dark as when we came in around 4 in the morning. Not an extraordinary occurrence here for those with early start times. But over the course of post-practice chai, the sky changes, color slowly returns to the street, structures become more and more defined by the minute. 

I know not everyone can relate as many are starting later in the morning, coming to the door when it's pretty much daylight out. For me, however, this time of the morning, the hours that straddle the dark and the light really remind me of what it's like to practice here. It's a medium for the dualities, good and bad, dark and light, love and fear, they all have a place here. 

This yoga bubble is also a magnifying glass for the real, which we get to see extremely up close, whether it's that sweet opening, so soft and light that it feels blessed by a divine shower of flower petals falling from Devaloka or that moment of grappling with your demons in the dark, that struggle of epic-like proportions. Both extremes exists here, sometimes simultaneously or, at the very least, in remarkably close succession of each other. 

It has been bright returning to India, to once again be a student, to be in the presence of my teacher, to check in with myself, and to meet old friends, fellow journeymen and women, who I have seen throughout the years. The interactions with the later have been particularly special already. To see people change and grow over the year or years is a testament of time and practice. All around I see evidence of transformation, the evolution of human life, which plays out though the year, in our work, our relationships and our general state of being, all skillfully fueled by sadhana, or spiritual practice. All this is also a reflection of the many changes in my own life over the years. 

Even those who I do not know personally but have assisted in the shala since last year or in 2013--it is also really special to see these fellow-students again on their mats in the shala. I am inspired and honored that I get to see the changes in their practice albeit without any life context. It's a pretty amazing thing to experience as an assistant.  

Of course, the more light it is, the more visible the shadows. This first week here has also been about seeing the shadow sides of being in Mysore, the bits of dark that hide in this or that corner of my own ego. 

Sitting in observation of heavier feelings and energies is not my favorite, it makes me feel raw and uncomfortable, though I also have a growing appreciation for it, a better understanding that there is no running away, that there is no real way of covering that which needs to be seen and recognized. 

This first week has been about adjusting to the shifting light and nodding respectfully to the shadows. What comes next, I cannot say! But I look forward to seeing the light change, and the dark too. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

the honor and the privilege

Photo: (c) Barbara Süss

It's 3:10am and my friend and I arrive at the Shala gates, there's already a healthy number of people waiting there, somewhere between 25 to 30. It used to be that going that first morning meant seeing many familiar faces. I counted, 4 or 5, most of whom I met last year. Later more familiar faces arrive but the ratio is fairly unchanged. Mostly it is a sea of new faces. 

This is ok, of course, this is how Ashtanga is growing. It is a different time.  

Because of the growing numbers vying for a spot to practice at the source of Ashtanga yoga, however, a good many long time or returning students could not get in this month or the months previous. I myself got a deny for January and feel blessed to be here now.

I'm amped, and surprised to feel nervous and excited on my first day back at the Shala. Time has not calmed that; I'm glad because it reminds me that it still matters a lot to be here, to practice in that room, to be led by my teacher. 

The rugs are gone, the floor is springy, Sharath teaches with a microphone tucked into the neck of his t-shirt, but the count is the same, if not speedy. So is that incredible wave of energy that just picks you up and carries you through led primary. There's no frills, just straight up practice. 

Afterwards, I down my coconut and swiftly, without engaging in any conversation, walk back to the place where I am staying. This time feels sacred. I get half way there and break the silence between me and my friend, "I'm so happy to be here." There is a little crying, I must admit, I'm soppy like that.

What I'm feeling is this: it is a privilege and an honor to be here. 

I feel this more now than ever because of the new challenges with applying, there are just no guarantees. But the truth is that it has always been an honor and it has always been a privilege to be a student here. 

I realize that even if I profess to understand this, I have over the years lapsed in really living up to it. So many trips doing too much or doing too little; not resting enough and spending too much time at the coconut stand; not studying properly or taking too many classes. 

It's a process, of course. Every season is an opportunity to find a better balance that is healthy and sustainable and respectful of this really intelligent practice. 

There's the coming here, all open hearted, surrendering to the feet of the teacher. Then there's walking his walk, talking his talk. I honestly can't say I've totally done that. I don't think I'm a "bad lady," I'm just learning like everyone. 

I know that I am not the only one to make googly-devoted eyes at Sharath during conference, eyes in samadhi-like concentration or hands busily note-taking so that I might might absorb as much wisdom, only to step out the door and do exactly the opposite.

Surrendering isn't breaking open your chest bone to grab ankles, it is really trying to live the eight limbs, it is listening to our teacher, it is doing as he asks us. Before we act (not just on our mat but during our entire time here) we should ask ourselves, is this in keeping with the great tradition that I've come all this way to learn from? I like to think I'm ready for this way of practice, if not long overdue...

Again, I cannot say it better than: it is an honor and privilege to be here.