Up in the early morning on Saturday, I chanced to spy the alignment of the heavenly bodies. Sun, moon and star traced a straight line in the dawn sky, casting their reflections on the calm surface of the sea. As the heavens sang their coloured glory and the birds their joyful chorus, I was given a reminder of my own insignificance. It felt great.
When I see the planets align, feel the Earth turn upon its axis, watch the days break and then later fade away, I realise that I matter little, if at all. I am a speck upon a speck, hurtling through space and time infinite.
In childhood, we believe the world revolves around us. Much of our long-lasting angst arises in childhood when we somehow think that we are responsible for everything that happens around us. Parents divorce, must be because I didn’t put my socks on that morning. Vacuum cleaner broken, must be because I left that dirty little candy paper on the floor. Etc etc ad nauseum.
Growth, maturity, is reached, I believe, when we lose our sense of self-importance. When we realise that we won’t save the world, that our scope is limited, we see that our only duty is to be as good as we possibly can be within the tiny scope of our lives. This is actually much easier, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not that difficult to decide to walk in the door of your house with a smile on your face despite your soul-destroying day at work, now is it?
We are all specks upon a speck, hurtling through space. We don’t know what we don’t know. Life is a huge mystery and probably none of it matters.
Yoga taught me all this. Yoga taught me to be still, quiet, and find that quiet place within myself. I often close my classes with a discourse that goes along the lines of “that stillness that you feel inside, right now, was always there. It’s just that you didn’t know how to reach it. Yoga gives us the tools to reach that still point, that quiet place, and to do so repeatedly and reliably. That is what yoga is, a series of ancient and well-tested tools that help us find our true selves, our quiet, calm, detached peaceful centre.”
We are specks upon and speck, hurtling through space. We probably matter not at all. And that’s ok.
Happy Monday, dear souls. Be joyful.
Every day I wake up thinking about yoga. It has been like this for as long as I can remember. It is my deepest passion, my guiding light, the shining star in my sky.
Yoga teachers are bound to one fundamental rule: you can only teach what you know. And knowing yoga is about doing yoga. You cannot teach postures that you cannot do yourself. You cannot create the discipline necessary to establish a home practice, even if that home practice is as humble as getting on your mat once a week, unless you yourself have a home practice. And you cannot impart the power of yoga to ease suffering and pain if you do not use yoga yourself to ease your own suffering.
An example: I got really sick over Christmas. And I was alone. After days of coughing, breathlessness, helplessness, I found myself in a state of terrible anxiety. I am going to die, I thought. We are all going to die, I thought. Death, sadly, has a 100% success rate. it is the most elemental, primordial fear that we humans have, and it is a rational fear. Because it is scary to think that our days are numbered, that all that we know will pass, that all the people we love will walk off this mortal coil one day and the worst thing is, we know not when.
I have a particularly intense relationship with all this because of the cancer rehab work I did. I watched people I loved, my patients, die year after year. I avoided the funerals because I had to maintain some sort of professional distance. In the last year I worked in breast cancer rehab, I had four women lie on my table weeping, and all of them were younger than me. How can you process that? How can you deal with the fact that illness is real, that all the yoga and chanting in the world will not heal a tumour, and that even the doctors are helpless in the face of this. How? how do you deal with that?
Well, first you freak out, if you’re me. Yep, it lay on me like a shroud and I carried that mantle for years. I tried, I tried my very best. But then it got too much and I ran. I rejected the world of oncology, I didn’t want to know. And then I got real. I realised that I possessed the skills to ease this particular suffering, this terrible elemental pain that we all share. I have yoga. My mission in life is to teach the yoga I know to ease the suffering of our human condition. There, mission statement. I don’t know if I ever had one before!
Yoga will not change the fact that we are mortal. Yoga will not make you live forever. But yoga can make you still in the face of all that fear, all that sadness, all that fragility. Yoga can teach you to sit still and say “Yes, okay, it is like this.” And dear, dear people, that stillness is so necessary to this world. One day you will be called upon to be still in the face of a storm and if you know how to breathe, to chant a little prayer, to ask the Universe for guidance when you yourself don’t know what to say, when words fail you, when your heart wants to burst, you lie in the hands of your maker, this incomprehensible, beautiful, contradictory, frustrating world that we live in and you say “I don’t know, please help me”, then you have the power of yoga.
And if all this is getting heavy, but you’ve stuck with me until now, thanks for listening. And let me tell you this – yoga is about joy. Yoga is about the joy you find when you understand and accept the reality that is ours, and you say – HEY ! But I am ALIVE! And I have love inside me! I have so much love to give and there is always somewhere to put my love! And then you smile, and you laugh and you are present and available and, and, and….you feel HAPPY! So dear readers, this is what I did when I was sick. I sat and I chanted and breathed until I remembered that this life is the one I have, and it is marvellous, beautiful, miraculous, just as your life is marvellous, beautiful and miraculous.
Now get out there and have a great Friday! Live, love, laugh. I will be teaching in less than an hour, and I will probably hug all my students afterwards. Cos I am like that.
In Yoga sutra 1.20, Patanjali describes the characteristics of the yogi. The main requirement is faith. Faith in the path, faith in Ishvara. Sometimes, oftentimes, we walk the path without knowing whence it leads. Faith is what keeps us on the path regardless.
Patience is a quality associated with the root chakra, the Muladhara chakra. The root chakra is associated with the element Earth. Earth changes slowly and deliberately. I’ve never seen a rock looking at a clock!
As I began to write yesterday, patience has an element of faith in the unknown. When we are impatient, we allow the intellect and the ego to (attempt to) determine our course . We don’t tend to wait and see…we manipulate and cajole in order to secure our chosen outcome.
When one has faith, it’s easier to have patience. In Yoga Sutra 1.19-1.20, Patanjali describes the two types of aspirants, characterizing the majority as requiring faith, as well as other characteristics. When there is a deep faith in the course one is following, patience naturally follows. Why rush? one thinks, my time will come.
Indeed it will. Have faith, be patient, still your mind and follow your course. Be true to your heart and your intuition. If in doubt, be kind and don’t fear, wait and see what happens. It will probably be better than you imagined. Faith. Patience.