Well, it’s Wednesday here in Mysore. This morning was my last practice at the shala. Tomorrow is a moon day, and I fly home Friday night.
As always, Mysore lessons are something of a surprise — never quite what you’d imagine, and yet always so seemingly obvious in the end.
We come here for yoga, and many people make the mistake of thinking that the yoga is in the postures we do. Sure, there’s fun (and fear!) to be had in learning new postures, but the trick is to be able to control your mind and your emotions even in the midst of the fun, the fear, the frustration, and even the triumph.
Somehow, the real game changer in all of this is India herself. I’ve heard people talk about places that they have a “spiritual connection” to, and quite honestly I’ve either rolled my eyes (Eat, Pray, Love) or I’ve taken it to be a metaphor. But at this point I have to admit that there just really is something about India. Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT talking about romantic notions of spiritual connection — nope, this is no blissed out location; not by ANY stretch of the imagination.
But India plays a huge role in the transformation that takes place when this westerner visits. The other day I was thinking about the American character (or perhaps more accurately, MY American character), and I kind of imagined it as a hard shell on the outside, and sentimental filling on the inside. I bring that character to India, and immediately the hard outer shell is BOMBARDED by people people people noises animals people smells sights people people people — wow. And the sentimental center just melts into a puddle of goo. Ow. It really hurts. There’s a sensation when I first get back to India that feels like having your emotions scraped raw.
And then you start to get worked on by India. The hard shell grows more porous and yielding, and the sentimental center gets more… muscular, almost. Tougher, but with room for a stronger compassion. Kind of like how asana practice balances one’s strength and flexibility, so the country itself balances one’s inner and outer experience.
It only seems like we’re limited to transforming our bodies.
Here are some of the (many!) koans that arise when practicing in Mysore:
What if you are settling into a well-deserved savasana and you see that other people are waiting?
What if someone squeezes ahead of you as you wait in the foyer?
What if someone is rocking something you struggle with?
What if someone is struggling with something you rock?
What if a dog cries out in the street?
What if you see a thin cat making its way through a culvert?
And a brainteaser for non-vegans: Why are all the calves female?
Oh, India. You surprise me every time.
A friend mentioned that he senses a theme in each visit he makes to Mysore. I haven’t actively been looking for a theme this year, and yet sure enough, one popped into my head this morning as I waited in the foyer.
Another friend had suggested “resilience,” and I had been thinking about “work,” since I’ve been working while here, and working on my practice. But it occurred to me today that this year’s theme is “healing.”
The best thing I experienced this trip was the sight of the dog who I saw get hit by a car last year. I felt such surprise and joy to see that he’d survived a terrible injury and healed enough to enjoy lying in the sun and checking out a passing stranger (me). And I’ve experienced the healing of the pinky toe I managed to break on my second practice — healed just in time to go home! And I’ve practiced day after day in a room full of people working to heal themselves physically, emotionally, psychically, and even existentially.
Resilience is something we cultivate, and it’s certainly important. But healing is something that the universe, as an organism, just does. Not always, of course — as India manages to remind me quite often — but still, healing is going on all the time, and is just as big a part of life as pain and suffering. Sure, we’re all getting beat up by life as we go along, but there’s a counterbalance of healing that’s important to recognize and embrace.
Okay, time to get back to work, then a visit to say goodbye and thank you to Sharath, and then a moon day eve dinner (perhaps with a gin and tonic!).