A day of learning

I had a last minute trip that came up this morning. A cab had been arranged and I had a lovely 45 minute ride listening to one of the wisest persons I have met in recent times.

An unassuming man, he has been a driver for 42 years, doing almost daily runs on the Mumbai-Pune highway, first as a trucker and then a taxi driver. The road was his teacher. His words, not mine. “Even people who don’t talk teach me much.”

Once a month, he and his wife go someplace, usually to a temple somewhere out of town and come back recharged. He has a guru in his village who he holds in high respect. He reminded me of Nisargadatta Maharaj, a common man who was an enlightened soul. This man is a warkari, he used to do the annual pilgrimage for many years and listened to stories from fellow travellers. Stories about ancient sages and enlightened masters. One of the things he was told as a young man was to undertake pilgrimages while health still permitted so that he wouldn’t need to burden another.

We spoke through the rear view mirror, his deep set eyes a pool of calm radiance. He’s driven many business leaders, politicians and had much knowledge about human nature, different kinds of businesses and nothing to lose. A karma yogi of the finest mettle. A completely irrelevant tidbit but fascinating piece of information was that the colourful tutti-frutti was made of papaya!

One of the interesting things I have observed in my life is how reflective mornings fade into an intellectual workday. I saw it happening with him as well as we moved from a dialogue on matters related to the spirit to a conversation on sundry life matters. His mastery was his car, personally cared for and maintained. Through the years, his knowledge and expertise deepened with the exposure to different vehicles. As he rightly observed, no one can be a master of all. You need to really be with the subject you have chosen. His happiness with his role in life was a deep contentment, reflected in the excellent condition of his vehicle and driving skills.

We spoke on a wide range of topics from the recent political events to family and work, business and learning. He made some astute observations and was up to speed in terms of infrastructure development all by virtue of his job. I was happy to just ask questions and he obliged easily.

The sense I received from his absolute assuredness was a detachment of the sort I haven’t encountered in person. He played the roles he had been given with no expectations and clarity of purpose. An active life of service without attachment. I found myself humbled and privileged to have made his acquaintance.

Hari Om is how he greets anyone so much so that many call him by that name. I’m just grateful to have had the wisdom of his words.

The day opened into another interesting exploration about menstruation with two unlikely people, a retired brilliant business head for a worldwide brand and a younger second generation engineer. Both men, with none of the usual avoidance of anything to do with periods and a great deal of openness to understand what it means to be female and bleeding.

In a matter of 12 hours, I had a yoga lesson from an unlikely teacher, lessons in business and a heart fill of love in the presence of my firstborn. I couldn’t have asked for more.

One of the beautiful juxtapositions of religion and business. A temple in a tree in the compound of an old business complex.
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Watering the tree of life

I swam today after many months. The water was just right and the evening sky was a sight for thirsty eyes. Treetops fading into twilight even as the birds slowly fell silent and the bats started whizzing around. A few of them skimmed the pool waters and I watched them as I swam or floated on my back. There was a dead dragonfly being taken apart by industrious ants and I watched them keep at it in between laps. Life and living, death and dying. And in the middle the waves of all duality.

Floating on my back, I felt alive like I haven’t felt in a long time. Just the open skies, water and life around me was enough to pump some energy into this tired container. After I came home, something prodded me to pick out a book blind and it turned out to be The Tree of Yoga. The page opened to the chapter titled Old Age. It used the analogy of swimming in one of the paragraphs and I was struck once again by the resonance of thoughts. Uncanny how they are amplified in every day living.

Another book led to exploring the element of water and it led to a rumination on the rupa of water within and without. Eventually it comes to the breath of life, inspiration and expiration. In waves, always moving else it stagnates and dies. How many vritti waves happen in the mind between that first inhalation and final exhalation?

Why do you practise yoga?

I found myself in the library reading transcripts of one of Geetaji’s talks from nearly two decades ago. As always, many gems in there and I wrote down some of them in my book. One of the thoughts that stayed was a question. Why do you practise yoga? If I had to answer for myself, I would say mental clarity, emotional intelligence and perhaps more longingly a chance to experience a spell of being boundless.

It is amazing how much progress has happened with the knee in the last three weeks. All it took was letting the teachers know what I felt. For a long time, I felt that the root of my knee condition lay in the groins and sure enough, I’ve seen a huge turnaround since that day.

It’s a different experience to practise passively, mostly just relaxation and with a lot of assistance. Surrender at multiple levels, to the body’s intelligence, to a teacher’s touch and of the mind’s desire to be doing. Yoga looks very different from a prone position. I suppose when you’re on the ground, you can’t go any lower. Perhaps the last year was about grinding down until I lay face down and stripped the layers of fear. Learning to own up to my life and let that song be heard. It is difficult when you are used to singing alone.

The face of my yoga practice has changed from feeling a lack of availability to acknowledging what is present. The sensitivity of the body is much greater than what it was during days of active asana but I doubted it. How could it be possible for someone so young in yoga to feel that way? I still remain skeptical but there is a tiny voice that tells me that perhaps it is what it is. The ability to experience need not necessarily be related to the length of practice.

Update:

Today’s sutra class was on 1:18 and explored that same boundlessness. It’s unnerving and exhilarating at the same time to find that the experience ‘i’ sought is one that is spoken of in these studies. And as the sutra speaks, transcending even the balance of potential sanskaras, the restraining ones. I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for the opportunity to listen and soak in Prashantji’s words.

Sometimes I wonder if I should write here, and if it isn’t self inflating but then I remember why I started. Perhaps another who begins their journey can see my stumbles and know that it is a journey that is worth it. An offering of gratitude. As Prashantji says, the sadhana is through Shastrasangha, satsangha etc.

This lovely card is a physical expression of an invisible sangha

“Yoga is the word which stands for the whole process and the whole philosophy” – Geeta Iyengar

It’s been a few weeks since Geetaji passed away and I miss her presence in the hall. My eyes roam to the end where she used to sit but that space is taken up by props and the people they support. The energy in there is urgent now, a fire that is constantly stoked to keep the teachings alive. All the teachers pour themselves into the discipline and I can’t help but see how dynamic and organic the process of teaching and learning is. And as I leave, I see the huge picture of Guruji looking into that hall and think all is well.

Hari Om

Designed spaces

The main hall at RIMYI has four pillars which neatly divides it into 5 parts and I can’t help but muse if it wasn’t a deliberate esoteric design meant to make the students pause. The platform and the ceiling mirror this principle of five. I wonder if it is a way to subconsciously cue the Pancha kosha, pancha bhuta, pancha prana and so on.

A bag to hold place until the session starts

The pinnacle of the building has a shrine to the eternal Hanuman and the numerous sculptures that occupy different spaces throughout the building and compound invite contemplation. Oftentimes, I reach the hall early when it is mostly empty and look around soaking in the different elements present. Slowly, the room fills in with people, some with euphoric expressions of practice, many with a serious demeanour, a few chatty in company and still others who sit alone. No prizes for guessing which category I fall into. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Soon, there will be an intense exploration of the sutras that demand 100% attention. Until then, I sit and see.

Hari Om

Time in Yoga

The other day, I was prone in class and from where I lay I could see different setups and a whole lot of focused faces. In a flash, there was a thought of time being measured, not in minutes or seconds but experience. It gallops in pleasure and drags its feet in times of sorrow. In the experience of asana, there is no room for sequential time, only experiential time. It’s the ‘atha‘ from the first sutra, the state of preparedness which opens the possibility of freedom from the limitations of time, space and causality.

The medical class is always fascinating to watch. Bodies of all ages and various levels of ability are helped, often quite vigorously. I watch backs mostly and see how all of our therapy revolves around the spine. Personally, I’ve found relief after a change in sequence and a marked difference in the body between two sessions.

It is extremely hard to surrender the desire for an active practice and experience the quietness of a long passive and recuperative one. There is no other way. Outside of class, the body holds its stresses in different parts and I’m learning to let go as soon as awareness appears. Sometimes all that is required is to step out of my own way.

All bodies age and I see senior practitioners with their struggles too. The change in the body’s topography and the disturbances of life’s circumstances erode its physical expression. I see it in my existence too, the need for reading glasses and a slowing down. The body is a decaying instrument and will lose its capacity over time. I suppose one can only do the necessary sadhana to look after it to keep the heart and mind in fit condition for yog. That agility and endurance calls for a different practice.

Does a lack of complicated poses or a rigorous sequence make it any less of sadhana? My head says no but the heart is only just about accepting its truth. Asana is one petal, the others are oceans in themselves.

My recent exploration has been the Isavasya Upanishad and as always, I remain enthralled by the sheer poetry and simplicity of age old words. All of the Upanishads leave me with a sense of upliftment despite not really understanding it. Just the words bring much joy and I cannot begin to imagine how much more unpacking its essence would bring. But then again I suppose then it wouldn’t matter, there would be no sense of separation. It is a matter of many lifetimes before any of that becomes even remotely possible. For now, I listen to its music, enthralled.

One of the things that jumped out was the need for balance, an echo of abhyasa and vairagyam. It is an ongoing experimentation for me to learn to temper a tendency for solitude with a healthy sense of community. It is part of the fabric of being in the householders stage and any tilt towards one extremity is self defeating. Easier said than done but try, I must.

In gratitude to all my teachers, mortal and eternal

Subsumed in Smriti

A couple of weeks ago, we explored ‘smriti‘ as part of the sutra study at RIMYI. Just a day before that I was talking with someone about memory and since then ‘smriti‘ has been a continuous whisper.

Prashantji mentioned how the other vrittis were ‘subsumed by smriti‘ and that phrase has taken root. Smriti again. Memory is a loose translation for smriti as the latter indicates knowledge recollected as well as the recollection of the process of knowing . The technical delving into the vrittis is a fascinating exercise and one that is deeply rich at the Institute. Between Prashantji and Srineet, there is a lovely balance of structure and flow. I remember thinking how the teachings of the family are like a river, continuously flowing. No matter at what point one enters it, one is bathed. The generosity of their sharing reminds me of something I read once about how sharing even the little we know is important since that could possibly help someone else to get more out of that small piece of knowledge.

Back to smriti, the concept was deeply immediate to my current situation. How does one use smriti in its aklishta form? How do you examine all the vrittis that come remain encapsuled by it? How much can you trust the mind and the senses? Regret for the past and worry about the future also lie in its realm. The current embodiment is a result of smritis of previous lifetimes. How does one work through the weight of all that past?

The sutra leads on to the twin rivers of Abhyasa and Vairagya, one flowing outward and the other to the source. ‘Chitta Nadi’. It is the solution Lord Krishna gives Arjuna as well. Oftentimes when I open the Bhagwad Gita, the page that appears is the shloka (6:35) that provides the same solution. The treatment of the solution in the Sutras and the Gita is the same but its expression is beautiful in both. Terseness in one and personal in the other to suit the capacity of the sadhaka. Krishna taps into the innate warriorhood of the Pandava prince by addressing him as ‘mighty armed’ and brings an empathetic understanding of the difficulty in restraining the restless mind before laying out the prescription.

Abhyasa uses smriti. In asana practice or study of the texts, the mind employs smriti to go further leading to more smriti. And what is the limit of the mind’s capacity? What is the limit of the capacity of the cosmos of which we are not even a drop?

Our lives are part of that uninterrupted recording and we are mostly without any real control since our thoughts and feelings based in the past drive our present. Instinct must come from that recollection of millenia. I imagine (vritti again๐Ÿ˜Š) Vairagya would be the ropes of smriti falling off by itself. No burden of past impressions or future anxieties.

This student is deeply grateful for the experience of listening to the learnings of teachers who have thought deeply on the subject of yog. These ruminations are but a tiny interpretation of what was understood of a few things that they shared. Perhaps in time, something else will be revealed from all that was heard until now.

Hari Om

Christmas, Interrupted

Every Christmas, I go to church with my mother. It means much to her and doesn’t take much except a couple of hours of my time. I listen to the sermon for a hook, something to ruminate on. It’s a habit now, this soaking in of words and letting the message surface whether in a book or when listening to someone.

This year, the priest was talking about Christmas being a celebration of interruptions. And I found my hook. While the season is one of celebrating family and loved ones, the first Christmas disrupted the trajectory of many lives. Mary was told she would be the mother of God, Joseph was asked to accept her and the unborn son. Many mothers lost their children to the purging of a fearful king Herod. Shepherds and the wise Magi were filled with joy. Jesus himself was born in a manger, a displaced birth from the norm. Tidal waves that forced a turn in all those lives.

A crib in my mom’s neighbourhood

Interruptions have a negative tint in their etymology as it implies a break. Mostly they tend to be a rude jolt to one’s plans and become a focal point of displeasure. Aversion. Sometimes there are pleasant ones but those usually get labelled more benevolently as ‘surprise’.

2018 was one of interruptions at many levels and in many ways. It seemed like a big mess for a large part of the year. On the outside, there have been some drastic changes but the insides saw a tectonic shift. And like all those movements of the planet, it takes a while for a new normal. The continents went through their upheavals before they rearranged themselves as we know it today and the change still rumbles unseen.

My lowest point came the day after Geetaji’s passing away. It saw me crumpled and crumbled watching a repeat of all that I finally broke away from. Perhaps, that was a necessary catharsis, that piteous, animal howling of sorrow for another’s pain through which I could find expression. Eventually, that moment passed and endurance kicked in. One which allowed the pain to coexist even as the body worked and memory woke up.

I remember Geetaji everyday, fragments of her instructions through her books and talks serve as an encouragement. Yet, I grieve, a strange grief. Perhaps, this mourning is an acceptable one for another grief that cannot be acknowledged. It was a Christmas, interrupted.