what I wish I could say.

If I can fit the pieces of this self together at all, I don’t want them to be the way they were. Not because I thought I could be better defended either: what I wanted was to be realer. – Eve Sedgwick, ‘A dialogue on love.’

I’ve found it hard to get outside the door recently.

So I’ve been spending days in bed, morning practice, then reading – intermittent – staring at the clouds, idea-having. My supervisor tells me: ‘Because what you are going to do is make a significant contribution to theory’. Curled in sheets scattered in croissant crumbs it feels unlikely. Is this how all masterpieces were born? In solitude – emotional insulation – slacking off the formal university occasions. Am I a philosopher now? Wow, thanks. Surely I wasn’t trying.

But I have been watching lots of programmes about hoarders. Now hoarders understand, that need to hide oneself away, literally with objects, a house so full there is no space to move, to breathe. Its almost a regression back to the womb, a safe place, a clear barrier between the self and the troubling world out there. What is interesting is how loss lies at the centre of many hoarding stories. ‘Well it started just after he died…’ When we lose space opens up. And what do we fill it with? The habit is chosen seemingly arbitrarily, by circumstance or chance. To hoard is perhaps the act of filling space at its most literal expression; and yet the aim is the same; to bury oneself alive, to no longer be. The over-eater, the bulimic, the addict, the alcoholic, often seen as the ailments of the greedy, but is it not rather a matter of feeling unbearably empty. It’s not greed when you never manage to fill that space.

“I was looking for something to fill that void inside”, sometimes this statement is said in regards to a yoga practice. Nothing else worked, so says Russell Brand. Oh and he tried. And don’t we all want to return to the womb, to reach that point of non-existence, to momentarily shed the tiring fact of being. This is not to ‘be in the moment’ as the adopted mantra goes. It is more an awareness without thought. After all it’s not a coincidence that it is only in the yoga practice room where I don’t feel the anxiety.

But it’s hard, hard to remember that some people don’t have death as the centre of the way they live – but nor do they have life – they just have fear of both. Fear is it own fortress. And yeah yoga helps. But you won’t find any anecdotes here. Though here’s a funny story. I represent a pretty successful recovery story. Parents dead by age 15 and an eating disorder for a good 7-8 years or so. Ask me how I recovered, and I have no idea.

Thinking in spaces makes more sense. Both in the way spaces close up and empty out depending on the people we have in our life and who we lose. When the space gets too large, feels irreplaceable, we might take up strategies to fill up that space, and those strategies might create their own problems, like burying ourselves alive, or destroying our insides. But sometimes that same space is comforting, its a cushioning, we can reclaim it as our own. And then there’s the people we allow into our spaces. I recall the comment of a customer I once served, “You become like the five people you spend the most time with”. I spent many years of my life closing off my spaces. And the people that occupied my space were critical and negative, “You need to open up more”, “Why are you wasting time going to India”. This helps no one. If I was to attempt any form of recovery story it is this; move out of the spaces that don’t serve you. This happens both through simply picking up and leaving, as well as opening up the spaces for newness to enter in. For me this resulted in meeting people who supported me for who I was. And yeah yoga, that stuff helps. Especially with opening the heart chakra.

I have a wise friend (he is younger than me but ah well) who used to tell me I hadn’t yet come to the realisation of being the odd one out. “Only then will you be free” he advised. But I have! I am free! I would cry. But I still spent so much time being disappointed, carrying expectations of the world, of people. I thought the only way out was to somehow transform, to let go of everything; and then there was the pressure to figure it out, and quick. But somewhere along the line, say a couple months into my stay in India, I started to lose my fear. It coincided no doubt with the time I fell ill. And no this sure as hell wasn’t any spiritual awakening. It was more a moment where I stared at the ceiling and the fan spinning above my head and thought “I feel like I’m going to die. No-one is coming to save me. And I don’t care”.

Sometimes the boundaries of the self, life and death blur so much you get a sense that living as the odd one out is really not a big deal because, and this is my deep realisation, we are all human and we all die, and who cares about the rest of the stuff, like the chase to ‘be’ someone, or going up the career ladder, or getting a mortgage. Running away is not running away, it’s the search for better ways to live. It’s creating a life for yourself where you can experience all you want to experience. It might mean being a little crazy. And as for the things that do matter, well they lie in the moments you encounter along the way, they are the people you love, and they are all the things I wish I could say.

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sort of inspired by Rashmi Munkempanna’s work: What I Wish I could Say. And she is based in Mysore.

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Diving In

It is rare a Sunday conference passes by without one of Sharath’s great little tales. My favourite has to be his description of the practice of yoga as the sea. It is easy to merely sail along the surface of the water, to provide the illusion of living via the principles of yoga. But to really experience yoga one must dive into the depths of the ocean, immersing oneself and discovering the true wonder and beauty of the yoga practice.

Diving into the ocean means saying goodbye to the world above the water’s surface. Sailing along the waters is a safe option, a comfortable medium between the realities of the modern world on the land and the truths to be discovered within the ocean’s mysterious depths. Sometimes I feel I am only dipping my head in the water. I see a vision of what lies beyond and it is exhilarating but terrifying. I lift my head back out the water and swiftly return back to what I know, what is predictable, even if it is trivial and full of the same.

On the surface my yoga practice has progressed beyond my expectations here in Mysore. As Sharath has allowed me to almost complete a full primary series practice (excluding Setu Bandasana – a welcome blessing!) I am enjoying and cherishing my yoga practice. And yet I feel like a fraud, not only because of my sloppy bhujapidasana and my clumsy supta kurmasana, but because I feel I am simply sailing along, too scared to dive into the abyss below.

Why the fear? It is often difficult to be an ashtangi in these modern times. That may sound horribly pretentious, and the truth is it has always been difficult to be an ashtangi, a yogi. For a yogi essentially has to renounce the expectations of the society in which he/she lives. It means making sacrifices that very few will understand or appreciate. It means a personal struggle to battle against old demons and to let go of habitual obstructive patterns.

The fear is thus one of truly setting out on one’s own and it is a solitary existence. To swim to the bottom of the ocean is a journey one must make alone. No returning to the surface for air when things go awry, or when the waves feel too heavy. And what will one discover? That is the tantalizing unknown and every experience will be unique to each individual.

And so today I make a vow to dive into the depths, shedding myself of the fears, bad habits, irrational attachments, and foolish mistakes to truly experience the sea inside.

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….

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.

I Don’t Live Here Anymore

So on the precipice of leaving my current life I find I am more unprepared than ever: feeling restless, being careless, and distanced from myself.

Why India? Why Mysore? Why Ashtanga yoga? Why indeed. I cannot quite explain to myself why and how, but a time comes in ones life when we can choose to listen to the heart, or continue to be dictated by the rationalizing of the brain. If you are lucky – and I feel lucky – you will choose to finally respectfully disregard the latter. And find yourself entering the unexplored territory of (your)self.

The journey is boundless. Here I will attempt to record some of the scattered thoughts I experience and through this perhaps form my own blueprint. The attempt to document the intangible, express the transitory ever changing movements of life will never quite succeed of course.

And so to get there – here – you must burn the bridges that structure your life. My vocation (academia), my job (in a bookshop), my identity (composite of the former two), my safety net (my loved ones).

What is the saying? – to reach the island you must first lose sight of the shore. And just in case you want to know how the feeling of being adrift is, I will tell you. It is akin to a permanent nausea, a nausea that somehow numbs sensations, so that in this non-place, you as a self are also non. A malleable, shapeless, faceless form, expectant and waiting, and waiting…

Those close to me exclaim their sadness at my impending farewell and I remain unresponsive and unmoved. But I just can’t get tearful about my leaving, because I already said goodbye many months ago. And since then I have been in this nauseuated shapeless space. Something has gone from inside me and I just can’t get it back.

And in coming back to zero, coming full circle once again, after screwing up another year; I am distanced from my yoga practice, falling into bad habits, lacking vitality.

The final bridge (The Past) has to undergo its necessary erosion, and it is a messy, scary process. Wading through memories, the losses pile up; the burning sensation inside the chest won’t fade; the eyes sticky with hesitant tears.

The Past is the last battle, but victory only leaves you with an ambiguous future and the haphazard, unpredictable now.

What on earth will occur – living in the hap – and no longer just writing about it?