Today a poem by Kahil Gilbran was left on my bed. It was called “Tell us of Pain.”
"And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break,
that it’s heart may stand in the sun,
so must you know pain."
Each day I wake at 5:00 AM. Just like at home, I get up and begin my writing. I find this time of the day to be soundless in circumstance and mind. At 5:30 promptly there is a knock on the door, Santosh, the chef is there with a tray carrying chai, a milk-tea mulled with spices served with sugar on the side. I like it extra sweet.
I sleep in a tent, but it is quite plush. Last night a small something was twirling my hair, a chipmunk, squirrel, or gecko I do not know, but it came back three times. At first, I thought the touch was a dream, then a visitation, then realized this is a small animal, now there is no sleep, so I get up to write. Sitting beneath the light of my lamp, I see it flash-past, a gray puff, scratch, click, and then gone. So I sleep in a tent, but it has a desk, a wardrobe, and an unusually comfortable bed.
The bathroom is heaven. It is open to the outside. The back wall is simply wicker shade, up during the day, down at night. Connected to a courtyard housing palm, frangipani tree, fern and a stone bowl of rose petals; the shower and toilet look out. When I am brushing my teeth, I am standing under a canvas peaked roof in beautiful temperate nature, a sky fringed with palm and air filled with India-sound: peacock, chanting, train.
My first practice begins at 6:30 AM. There are two yoga programs here, Hatha and Ashtanga. This year I am the only student in the Ashtanga program, so my group class is just me. There are two teachers, Ramakant and Manikant. They are both practitioners with skillful assists. They studied at the Mandala school in Mysore with Sheshadri. They teach a traditional approach to Ashtanga yoga. This visit marks my third year of study with these teachers.
Today we moved through the Primary Series, and there are lots of details that my teachers point out. I tend to skip the down dog exhalation in Suya Namaskar B, and sometimes I rush my chaturanga refusing to exhale completely during the posture. I fail to straighten my arms in up-dog and my right leg; I don’t think I have bothered to straighten it since last year. As I work on these details, I notice aches and pains going away. Others arrive. A bright awareness returns to my effort, and my practice improves.
“And if you could keep your heart in wonder
at the daily miracles of your life, your pain
would not seem less wonderous than your joy:
And you would accept the seasons of your
heart, even as you have accepted the
seasons that pass over your fields.”
Last week I wrote about having a teacher two valleys away. I notice how valuable it is to work on the practice at home in between these trips abroad. When I come here, it becomes clear where I have forgotten, gotten lazy, and gone to sleep in my practice.
After asana, we do what is called Kriya. We use the neti pot to clean our nasal passages. We gather in a group outside in the shade. It is funny to see the whole gaggle of students putting water up their nose and blowing it out on the ground with plenty of tissue available to keep the effort relatively civilized.
Then comes breakfast. The table laid with fruit, condiments, sprouts, water, and fresh juice like watermelon or orange-lime is wonderous. I tend to fill my big bowl with papaya, sliced banana, watermelon, and grapes. Sometimes there is guava other days chikoo (a sweet-sticky pear like fruit). I toss some bean sprouts on top and think heaven. It is warm enough in India to eat a big bowl of fruit in February!
The servers arrive. The same chef who brought me tea offers ladles full of oatmeal, a pancake stuffed with sweet lentil, idli or dosa. Everything paired with chutney and sauce.
I finish my meal with Assam tea, my favorite. It is robust and hot, served with milk and sugar.
We sit family style, so I meet the other guests at meals. Many are business folk who come to Shreyas to escape the hustle or bustle of Bangalore, but there are also seekers of peace, yoga teachers and homemakers wanting to get away from it all.
I excuse myself and head down the path to meditation. Bala, the meditation teacher, is a marvelous guide with a baritone voice that takes us on a tour of our surroundings, bodies, and minds. We chant So-Ham Ham-So which translates to I am that, that I am. This time and mantra offer me a daily opportunity to recognize that I create my reality and if I perceive it, it is me.
“and you would watch with serenity
through the wonders of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician
Within you heals the sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink
his remedy in silence and tranquility.”
After meditation, I’ll go for a rest. In India, there is plenty of space to integrate insight. I am careful about social media and the web. I use the discipline of my practice to be still, to watch and to learn from myself and my quiet time.
At 11, I put on fresh yoga clothes and head to the outdoor hall. The hall is a big open-air structure with columns and a tiled floor. There is a shrine to Patanjali adorned with fire and plenty of fresh cut flowers. I lay down my mat and wait. The teacher comes and we work on hips, shoulders, backbends, whatever he thinks might help my practice. These sessions are just one hour, but they are very intense, filled with long holds and challenging positions which aim to target old tension patterns.
Each of the yoga sessions begins with the guru mantra. It acknowledges that the teacher is creation, sustenance, and change. In Diety terms: Bramha, Vishnu, and Shiva. The Guru is the truly supreme absolute, which, to me means the truth.
I stagger up to lunch which is rich and rivals breakfast in its variety, flavors, and color. There is always a soup that is creamy hot and spiced just right. Then there is a thali-style lunch served, one spoonful at a time by the chef and his helpers. It is a dance of careful dishing out: lentils, yogurt, curries, masalas, papadum, roti, and rice. There is always a dessert, today was lemon cheesecake, and we finish with fresh herbal tea. I choose ginger to help everything digest…after all afternoon class begins at 4.
After lunch, I find a lounge chair in the shade and read. Not too much time passes before I fall asleep to the sound of birds and the scent of flowers falling left and right. My dreams are light and contain content found in listening, dishes, chatter, and trains. When I wake, there is always a cup of fresh coconut water by the table which I drink down and head back to the tent. I throw on another set of yoga clothes and head to class.
Afternoons are for practice. I am warm, and my body knows where to go. The first inhale and I’m off. The teacher's cues are less frequent, and I am a bit sleepy, but the attention to detail is fierce. Straighten leg, press heel, relax shoulders, sit down, sit down, sit down. Often, Disha, my teacher's daughter joins us. She is about 7. She rolls out her mat, right next to mine and we practice together. What I think about is the way practice is in her body at such a young age. We practiced together two years ago when she was 5. Two years of consistent practice before one is 7, can you imagine? She can do most of the primary series and never stops the flow. She has focus and interest and skill. Her father is gentle and precise in his instruction. He adjusts her to improve her alignment and deepen her pose. I can see the practice is not easy for her. I am relieved because it is not easy for me either.
In the evenings I’ll have a massage, Yoga Nidra or pranayama. I skip dinner, which is served outside under the stars. It is just too much food and I have to be up in 8 hours and ready to practice. My body needs time to rest, and digest, so tea and fruit are what I eat. I write or paint until 9.
“for his hand, though heavy and hard, is
guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
and the cup he brings, though it burns
your lips has been fashioned out of the clay
which the Potter has moistened with His
own sacred tears."
The new poem is delivered, and soon I am in bed. Life here is so restful I rarely sleep through the night, but it doesn’t matter I can wake and read and write and then go back to sleep.
“There is no way to peace; peace is the way.”--Borrowed by Bala.