Impossible to disentangle or separate.
It’s been more than a full year since my last entry, and now I write having traveled farther and more frequently than ever before into the far reaches of the world, into the boundaries of my own life experiences, and into the depth of my own heart. These three directions, these three processes are, as I have come to realize and as my teacher likes to say, “inextricably interwoven.” So here I sit, at an (un?)godly hour in the middle of the night, awake, in Austin, because in India, from where I’ve just returned from my third trip of the year with
Global Yoga Shala, it’s tomorrow night already. And ostensibly the end of the world?
Well, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine this day because I woke up realizing that I might, finally, have taken my own advice seriously, and might, finally, believe the thing I’ve been saying to my yoga students for the past few years…we’ll get to that advice soon enough.
The world traveler
It’s the experience I just had, in India...in trying to sum up everything I did and saw on my first journey (of what I’m sure will be a lifetime of journeys) to India.
"What was it like?"
"How was India?"
"Did you love it?"
"Are you happy to be home?"
My response to all of these questions is, “Yes.”
India is cacophonous. A veritable feast for the senses, in sound, smell, taste, touch, sight. Food for thought and fodder for the heart of hearts. It’s bright and windy, loud and dirty, beautiful and scary, everything all together, all at once, life inextricably interwoven into itself. India is the living tapestry of Tantra. In the city, the sacred and the profane simultaneously coexist, in one alley, filled with spices, onions, peppers, people, goats, tuk-tuks, women, children, cripples and breathtakingly beautiful goddesses, grime and gold, dirty feet, adorned feet, upside down and mangled feet, men in skirts, women in skirts, goats full of babies and milk, motorcycles with six people on them, bicycles stacked with more grain than one can easily consume in a year, art, gods, poverty and sparkling eyes.
On the “vibrating island” of our little peace of paradise, the Ayurvedic retreat center, the yoga shala, the sound of birds—so freaking many birds singing the lightness of being twenty four hours a day, joined by the chanting over the loudspeaker on the temple island next door at 4 in the morning, joined by 12 seemingly random people who all came together, through Global Yoga Shala, to chant the Gayatri mantra, to do our part for a time (for all time?) to help the sun rise. We learn to make yoga out of everything.
We learn to radically engage ourselves, each other, the teachings, life, fully. We tell the stories of our bodies, the strife beauty and uncertainty of our lives and we share in the process of recognizing the depth of the practice, benefit and lifelong commitment to depth and breadth, the cacophony and alarming silence of life, of yoga.
The life traveler
And all of this immense beauty, yoga teaching and revelation, on the heels of one of the most trying and difficult years of my life. So much change. So much sadness. So much love and support. So much happiness.
To my friends who watched me—with a multitude of expressions on their faces—take a leap into a new and unknown life, take trip after trip all over the world and into loving arms, speak for countless hours about the controversy of downward dog and of god—I have said to them as they have asked me, ‘how are you doing?’ with immense earnestness and concern, I have said, “I’m the happiest I have ever been and I am the saddest I have ever been. It’s both at once. They don’t exist without each other. They’re inextricably interwoven.” Kahlil Gibran has known this since 1923:
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."
To my parents, I have said this:
Dear Mom and Dad,
The Global Shala training this time around is just as sweet and intense and wonderful as the others, but with something so much more, and difficult to describe.
First, it’s been such a joy and blessing to have my beloved here with me, and also helping to reach into ourselves and reach out to each other as we explore our relationship as life partners, as teachers of two seemingly different yogas, and from teacher (me) to student (him.) It’s been a great adventure, complete with laughter and tears, trial and error, and moments of breakthrough. We are very much in awe of the fact that we get to spend this time together doing such an amazing things, changing others’ lives as well as our own.
And then there’s India. People were right when they said that India will always surprise you and will be more than you can imagine. This is amplified by the fact that we’re really on what one of my students has come to call a “Vibrating Island.” It’s really a fantasy land or fantastically a reality land?… this tiny island in the middle of a lake filled with migrating floating flowers. The island is teeming with all manner of wildlife, the majority of which are very loud birds. Crows, kingfishers (my new favorite bird, by the way), a family of screech owls that roost in the neighboring rooftop and keep my friend up most of the night. (The baby owl landed, staring at the group of us, last night on a chair at the next table over on the lawn. A truly magical moment.), herons, ducks, birds of paradise. Mosquitos, millipedes, chameleon geckos, some kind of giant (10 inch long) lizard that likes to sprint across the lawn to the yoga shala and up the bamboo screens to watch us practice through the slats in the screen… It’s a microcosm to the macrocosm that is chaotic India.
Teeming with life, traffic, where lanes are a formality that most people ignore and women ride side saddle on the back of a motorcycle balancing their 4 year-old between the two adults and holding baby in her arms. All of this happening while she’s in a beautiful sari. Since lanes are optional, people let you know they’re coming by honking their horn. This happens every time the bus approaches someone walking or bicycling in the street, which is about every 10 feet.
I am overwhelmed by the beauty outside, in all its color and noise and chaos, and I see it reflected in the eyes of my students, watching the color and noise and chaos make more sense through the practice of yoga—of coming to know themselves for the first time through reflection on the body, mind and the heart’s desires. It really reminds me of that t.s. eliot poem that goes something like, when you leave a place you thought you knew, and travel to see the world, you come back to that place, as though to know it for the first time.
I love you both so much and feel so grateful to be your daughter…that you advocate for me, that you encouraged me to learn and to be curious, to follow my heart, to be myself. It’s taken me a long way…into my own heart.
I love you,
The depth of my own heart
My advice to my students is this: Remember that there’s no part of you that’s not welcome here. In this room. On your mat, in your yoga practice, and finally, in your life.
And so now to me, to be repeated like daily mantra. Libby: remember that there’s no part of you that’s not welcome here. In your life. In this room. The ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ the beautiful and the ugly, the anger, the ecstacy, the profane, the sacred, the sad, the flawed, the lovely, the scared child, the struggling adult, the yoga teacher, the yoga student, the friend, the employee, the boss, the leader, the follower, the sister, the daughter, the ex-wife, the lover, the body, the mind—they are all me.
Yoga has taught me, as my teacher’s teacher has taught me, that “Every part of us that we do not learn to love will become hostile to us.” The moment I try to reject a part of myself—decisions I’ve made, fears of inadequacy, my own strange beauty—I have missed the point. Yoga brings me back to the point. To say Yes to every experience life offers; to every part of myself. Then make yoga of it. Engage fully, with radical affirmation and acceptance.
People were right when they said that you will always surprise yourself and will be more than you can imagine. I am overwhelmed by the beauty inside, in all its color and noise and chaos, and I see it reflected in my own eyes, watching the color and noise and chaos make more sense through the practice of yoga.
I cannot be any less than all of this, and I am certainly more than all of this put together… all the roles I embody, all the parts of me I like and the ones I don’t—all the experiences I’ve had that I like, and the ones I don’t—are inextricably interwoven. They make each other.