Erm, Is that Contentment I feel…?

So as a fortnight in Mysore draws closer my mood has certainly transformed. This week has involved mostly too much eating, way too much shopping, too much sleep (well more than the average 3 hours per night) and too little practice. I am feeling a bad yogi indeed. Too be fair this week has featured my ‘Ladies holiday’ – this seems to be the acceptable term here for menstruation – and with Diwali, today was the first practice after a lazy (but poorly) 3 days break. I had my moment of shame however when on Tuesday I was walking past the Shala and Sharath (my teacher)  happened to be sat outside with his kids. Now with barely 7 days of practice at the Shala I had thought my non-attendance would go past unacknowledged. Instead he saw me and pointed and said ‘You didn’t come to practice today!’. I stood paralyzed in fear, mumbling something about feeling unwell – which appeared totally unconvincing with a bag of shopping in my hand (I was hormonal and needed to shop). Though I was mortified at giving such a bad impression, it was nice to know I was remembered. However I am probably remembered as the one who can’t do headstand, or worse the one who whacked him in the face with my feet in headstand…. Oh yeah that happened….

The days are long here in Mysore with yoga practice over by 6am or 7am and no pressing engagements and leisurely 3 hour breakfasts. Here in pleasant and (relatively) quiet Gokulam, I think perhaps I am finding the chance to breathe, and let my thoughts roam.

Meeting the people here has also been an important experience. Though I feel I have not yet met people with whom I connect with on close level (but these things always take us by surprise), and that may be due to age or experience, I have witnessed and been acquainted with people who’s lifestyles have inspired me.

Most people here are travellers. Those who have jobs only work in order for the next extended traveling trip. Others have been going from once place to another for years, with Mysore a regular stopping point to practice at the Shala and meet familiar faces. Today at breakfast I met an Australian couple who spend months traveling at a time. And traveling in the sense of having some idea of the route they plan to take, but no hotel reservations or itineraries, and no fears. And speaking with others, who are walking travel guides for pretty much anywhere in the world, who pass on their tips and advice; I suddenly feel the world open up and an old excitement locked away begins to bubble up in my chest.

I am captivated as they give their tales on the places they have visited. I think of my own life and the possibilities that exist. I think of the staleness of the narrative I thought was the only route – job-settling down-having a PLAN. But here everyone is defying that narrative – some more successfully than others – but still the spirit remains. I remember a list I wrote at 19 when in Australia, of all the things I hoped to achieve in life and the places I wanted to visit. Being in a different country for the first time opened my eyes and stimulated a desire in me. The following years of education conflicted with my childish dreams and adulthood encroached upon my naivety replacing my dreams with practical ambitions.

But I cannot simply blame grey old England for destroying my dreams, as I cannot simply attribute India for rekindling them once again (For then I will surely be heading into Eat, Pray, Love territory, god forbid..). I stopped travelling physically, but my mind stopped too. I had stopped dreaming. My ambitions for myself grew smaller, the realities grew so much harsher, the burdens weighed heavier.

There is no worser fate than the death of the imagination. For the past four years my imagination has suffered a severe deterioration, with only temporary glimmers of originality. My PhD was doomed from the beginning – I had lost my passion, I was uninspired, my mind felt closed – ahead I could see only greyness and it was stifling .

Now I don’t know what I see – but the difference is I feel excited. No regrets and no turning back, now I have left I cannot imagine returning (yet). Yet it does not have to be a matter of burning bridges, as a friend once reminded me; I simply am choosing not to walk on those bridges anymore. But those bridges are still there for whenever I choose to visit them again.

For now, my childish dreams dictate and say: just keep going – so many places to explore and I want to see, experience, taste them all.

I think it is time to go and rewrite that list….

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Surfacing

It would seem remaining within England for over 3 years with no traveling relief is an unhealthy condition for the mind. The grey shroud debilitating my vision and preying on my hope of alternatives.

As the first week in India has past, my world has felt as though it has been turned upside down – and my world was a mess to begin with – so out tumbled all sorts of messiness, regrets, melancholy, tears and frustrations.

And India itself is upside down – the chaos, noise, smells, power cuts, geckos crawling on walls – further unsettling my unsettled mind.

But as the first week closes and I have moved into my own space and begun to explore my surroundings, I am re-discovering myself again. Not the old grey self, but the self neglected and forgotten, the self of childhood dreams.

Today as it is Sunday, we had conference at the yoga shala, which involves Sharath, our teacher, giving a little talk and the opportunity for the students to ask him any questions. A few comments he made resonated with me particularly in my transitional state.  He spoke about the length of time and dedication it takes to cultivate a a strong yoga practice, and that this time was crucial in order to construct a solid foundation to explore the other 7 limbs of Ashtanga.

At barely 2 years of (haphazard) practice I forget what an amateur I am, as I feel frustrated at my inability to do a full primary sequence. But as Sharath spoke today – you only go further once you have perfected all the postures that come before. It has been an important lesson – and perhaps some people who do not know Ashtanga practice will not understand why it takes many years of dedication (or Bhakti) when there are courses that will take beginners and make them yoga teachers in two weeks. But internal transformation (Svadhaya) does not occur if a piece of paper tells you that you have achieved. These achievements are hollow, with similarly hollow rewards.

As I sat in the hall listening to Sharath I contemplated on how hard it is to let go of the goals we set ourselves, or of the biological clock of expectations in the back of our mind. I suddenly have a flurry of memories –

My university supervisor, at the time aged 60, telling my 22 year old self to get out more, “Life goes by so quick” and as he speaks his face betrays surprise at this blatant and uncompromising truth. A 38 year old man, I am sitting with him at 3am in a strange room, he is single, on the dole and smokes too much weed. He looks sad and haggard as he tells me how much he wants children (and I am hoping this is not another come on). He asks me if I have ever been in love – “No” I say, I am 25 and he looks at me with shock and pity, “Well you better not waste anymore time”. Back to 2011, London, my PhD supervisor now tells me “If you want to leave, then make sure you leave with no intention of coming back, else you will not benefit from your experience.”

Letting go has too become a scheduled activity – the next 12 weeks I have to let go, immerse myself in my practice and become as accomplished as the seasoned yogis around me. Or what? Returning to justify myself, validate my decisions to the world, rewriting my CV so the past year or so of dropping out of university and sweating and standing on my head become valuable, employable skills??

The question of – ‘But what’s next??’ is preventing me from the full and neccessary immersion in my practice. For to practice asana is to do so with full intention, awareness, to be fully present.

And while I feel I am failing at this whole living in the hap thing, I am reminded at how comparatively (though a politics of the hap should never be a comparative exercise….) I am embracing the hap. My lack of return plane ticket for one is quite shocking for one. Not to mention my ‘fearlessness’  – which is a joke to me as I have been at my insecure and awkward worst over the past week, but I forget how people are scared of the small things, of things that are unfamiliar – whilst I was busy being scared about being an incomplete person (or something!).

Transformation is indeed a tough process, and I anticipate (whilst trying not plan) the journey ahead of me. But before transformation is it not important to learn to adjust to that which we are not comfortable? Coming to Mysore is not necessary to learn Ashtanga – but I think perhaps it can provide other lessons that may be out of reach in the comforts of home. Lessons that show the importance of living without fear of the unknown, of being alone, of immersion into a different self. But these lessons are hindered if you insist on not changing, on clinging to what you know. I wonder how one can transform when they cannot change the simplest of habits – for immersion in these small things unlocks a different part of the self. And so perhaps I don’t have as troublesome journey ahead me as I thought, and that although some may be more advanced in their asana practice, their minds, and the control of the mind as Sharath reminded us today, have a long, long way to go.

Coming Undone

As I climb the steps to the yoga shala each morning I find my legs and feet become shaky and I struggle to find my balance, to feel grounded. For a ‘yogi’ (if I can call myself that now??) one would think I would have more balance, and not topple into the woman next to me, another of my many Mysore faux pas I have achieved so far!

This sensation of instability I feel in my feet gives away the lack of certainty I feel in my sense of self. The suffocating greyness of home provided a false security blanket – or is a shroud a more apt description? – that hid away my fears from view, kept them at a safe distance.

But here I am exposed – no one to depend on or hide behind. At 26 I still wish for someone to take over the responsibilty of running my own life. But when others have opinions on my decisions, I rebel, feel trapped. After all there is a reason I had freedom tattooed on my wrist. That is my fetish, my talisman. And I ended up here in my quest. But what have I found?

I have found only an insecure sense of self that stripped of all sense of ontological security is floundering in waves of emotion.

I cannot deny the loneliness I expressed in my last post – or maybe I can, maybe I can put that loneliness back on its shelf and distract myself with idle chatter.

Yet loneliness is created only through the sense of obligation to be sociable, to act a certain way, to say the right things. For I still cannot rid myself of the sense of inadequacy I experience when I undertake everyday activities alone or if I go out to eat lunch alone and see every table filled with people in pairs, trios or groups.

It is not only what solitude says about you in terms of social identity, but also how that solitude works its way into how you see your self. As a woman, the sense of self is further conflicted.

For is not true that experiences only become so when shared? But to what extent is an experience shared anyway? Do I need a witness to validate my life?

And what of those moments experienced with others when I feel like I’m dying inside? The trivial chatter, the ignorant views, the ill informed opinion, tires and wears the mind, and each time a part of my self is destroyed.

It does not help that I appear to spend most of my life listening to other people talk about themselves. I am used to being described as the quiet, distant, aloof, stand-offish – whatever adjective you like – but I have often thought, do other people not realise the utter rubbish they spout? Why are they not aware (or bothered by) their immense self-absorption?

To develop a sense of stability in ones self is key to living without fear. I had begun I felt to achieve that, but environment has worked to undo that – perhaps it was not so stable after all.

Stability is an illusion, or so I thought, but is stability what I am after not freedom – or are they the same? and thus both an illusion?

Either way, the mind is blurry – India is making me come undone – my recent antics back home initiating the coming undone process. To come undone, is to mourn, and to lose something – what am I shedding? Aside from buckets of sweat and tears?

And as each day closes I list the mundane activities I need to undertake, and in my head remain the desires I have yet to fulfill. Tomorrow I tell myself is a new day, a day in which all can be accomplished and I can become the better version of myself. Tomorrow I could climb a mountain, fall in love, write a novel; tomorrow I could figure it all out; tomorrow I won’t screw up anymore, or cry on the bathroom floor.

But tomorrow always takes too long…

The Misfit Ashtangi

Scattered thoughts from a particularly scattered mind…

So India: just as I imagined – heat, dust, cows, pervy men. Oh there is much more I know, but I cannot see how visitors get so easily enamoured with the place. You need a tough skin – and I thought London was bad.

The first yoga practice today was at 4.30am (which requires being there at 4.15am thus waking up at 3.30am, and then rolling out of bed around 3.45am cursing and panicking…)and after a hiatus of drinking too much, eating too much and generally involving myself in all bad habits, it was intense. I was (fortunately) stopped in my usual stopping place in the primary series which is Marichyasana D, and was overwhelmed with gratitude as the heat was intense and the sweat was pouring like water from my softened limbs – the copious cocktails consumed on my leaving night on Wednesday emerging through my skin.

The practice just highlighted to me what an outsider I feel here. As I came without a rug (necessary with all the sweating), without a towel (which is just stupid, and due to my own poor packing abilities) and without the ability to do headstand, I wondered if this really was the right choice for me.

And yet I feel the purpose is to learn, to take time with one’s practice and body. Yoga is not just being the most accomplished, but to rid oneself of ego, of the competitive spirit.

And so far I have met people that do share these ideals. But I have also encountered a number who I feel desire only to fit in with this limited vision of yoga, that is to say, a very western concept. I am saying this because 1) This is my blog and not many people read it anyway, so little chance of offending! but 2) because I am yet to be proved wrong.

I don’t want to stay in a little ashtanga clique. I came to do my practice, to learn, to explore and that is it. Perhaps I will change my mind, perhaps I will look back in a month and feel very differently. But I am not sure.

I should have learnt by now that though you can escape a place you cannot escape the predictability of people. I feel much the same as I did when I was ‘part of’ academia. All the potential to change, to be new people, but resulting in a disappointing fate.

Perhaps that is just how it is. Perhaps I am just homesick. Perhaps I just want a real conversation with someone. Perhaps I just want something true, honest. Perhaps it is just me.

And so I wait to witness the human side of India. But I must confess a hideous truth: I feel alone. The misfit ashtangi.