Now that I have decided to act, there is so much to do. I volunteered at the Salvation Army over Thanksgiving and it was breathtaking. Making the meals, 300 of them in community, was as warm and rewarding as you might imagine. My job was simple; add the plastic silverware on top of the roll. I took care to get it right. I thought what a drag it would be to get the meal and have the napkin covered in gravy or wet from the beans.
I also connected with community; others like me, wanting to help. I enjoyed the fellowship… But then there was the call, "We need another car, does anyone have a car that can follow the delivery truck around and help?" No one replied. It was the only silent moment of the morning. I know what everyone was thinking because I was thinking it too. I didn’t sign up for this. I have to be at dinner in an hour, I don’t have time…the silence was deafening. Finally, I raised my hand and asked, "will a small car do?" Any car will do was the reply.
So we filled my trunk with supplies and off I went leaving my father and husband to Uber home. I followed a brand new, what we would call in the old days, roach coach downtown. A roach coach is an insulated truck that often pulls up at construction sites and offers meals to workers, this one painted up with a Salvation Army logo and a "donated by FedEx" sign. I wonder where are we going?
While driving I was reminded that in India, when a yogi has reached enlightenment, they often take on the service of ferrying passengers back and forth across the great rivers. This symbolic action reminds the enlightened ones that their true work is to transport those who are not yet awake from the shore of darkness, across the great river to everlasting life.
Siddhartha did this as did many others including our monk, Balaji.
Balaji was a humble monk who loved his job as the ferryman. One day a well-dressed man, a professor from the university, arrived on the bank of the river. As the professor was stepping onto the boat he asked Balaji, “Have you ever read the Bhagavad-Gita translation by Sri Radha Krishnan? It is the most enlightened and intelligent commentary I have ever read?”
“No,” said Balaji. “I cannot read; I only know the story from the perspective of my teacher.”
“Poor man,” said the professor, unless you can read the text yourself you will get no benefit. My friend you have wasted half your life.”
Later in the ride, the professor approached Balaji with another question. “Do you know the teachings of our great philosophers, Aurobindo, Rama Krishna, Muktananda, or Krishnamurthy, their teaching are essential to true understanding?”
“No.” said Balaji “I do not know these great men, I only know the kind and comforting words of my teacher.”
“Arghhh,” scoffed the professor, “you cannot understand anything without their teachings, Balaji, you have wasted three quarters of your life.”
The trip was long and as professor began to doze the weather changed. The sky went dark, the wind threatened and waves splashed over the edge of the boat. “Professor, professor,” cried Balaji, “have you ever studied swimology?”
“Swimology,” asked the professor? “Does that have something to do with swimming?”
“Yes Professor, can you swim?” Balaji replied.
“No Balaji” said the professor, “in all my busy years of study I never found the time to learn to swim.”
“Oh professor,” said Balaji, “the boat is sinking and we have no life jackets…. I am afraid you have wasted all of your life.”
This teaching offers us the reminder that every thing we do in our yoga practice: asana, breath-work, and philosophy must be grounded in real world applications. We ground our insights in our lives so we can swim when the waters of life require that we do.
A posture and the challenge of strong sensation teaches us to keep a clear head, hold steady and relaxed when life is painful. Pranayama teaches us to check in with the breath when we feel a strong emotion arrive. And the philosophical stories help us discern how to act in relation to others. Is this action part of the life I want to create? We understand that learning just to be smart will not help us on our sacred path. The learning must support our purpose.
Our caravan drove to the tents first, you know the ones, under I-83, near the farmers market. There are scores of them littered along Fallsway and the cross streets. As we arrived people began to appear. Tents unzipped and all kinds of folk: old, young, male, female, and every ethnicity emerged. Some smelled of alcohol, others appeared to have mental disability but most of them just seemed strung out and I am not surprised. It was cold. Imagine your Thanksgiving Day sleeping in a tent under a highway, owning only a bag of stuff and the clothes on your back. Damn straight they were strung out, I could feel it in my body. Lines and lines of people full of gratitude came to visit the truck. We handed each person a bag lunch, a hot turkey meal, a soda and a bag of candy.
We worked for three hours; the truck driver, Luther, knew all the spots. The interesting thing was, so did I. I’ve lived in this city since high school and the places we went; these are the places one might avoid or at least lock the doors and roll up the windows when entering, for safety of course. If you ask Luther what he does, he says I feed people and it was downright biblical. The joy of taking care of those in need, of reaching out to lend a hand when there is no expectation for return is incredible.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. - Matthew 25:35
All things are assigned a task, the heavens send light and rain to the earth, the earth brings forth blossoms and fruits, the mountains offer shelter. As for our human task, we are entrusted with free will and with that responsibility comes our path to wholeness. Often times I forget or ignore this sacred trust. Right now I feel like I don’t know what I am supposed to do. I am unsure what my sacred work is but I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t.
Now I am faced with what to do. I want to join Luther and help out. I also teach yoga most nights and weekends. I like to write these blogs and I like to make paintings. How do I know what to do? How do I know which is the right path for me? How do I know my purpose and does it help? It is said that the path becomes more and more narrow as we continue. Does that mean more refined? Does that mean difficult? Does it mean intimate, one behind the other rather than great migrations?
Rumi reminds us that If we perform and remember everything else, yet forget about our essential purpose, then we have done nothing at all. He says we are golden pots more valuable that ordinary pots but we use ourselves to boil ragged turnips. Why not, he continues, use the pot to boil your ego instead and set yourself free?
I am inviting you, as we enter the deepest dark of winter, to walk toward that which lights you up. Take your practices on the mat and use them as a tool for life. In other words, study "swimology". I want you to move towards your joy every moment. I want you to use that joy to help others. Again I come back to Rumi who reminds me with urgency- take an axe to the prison door and escape.