Searching for the Unsearchable

candle_lit_heart_by_prometheus_nike-d4it3woThis week it’s time to go deeper. I could tell you about the last kirtan of the season that descended into a surreal open mic session. Or about finally discovering the actual, official Cauvery government arts and crafts emporium, not just the fake ones spelt with a ‘K’. Or even about the insane amount of dosas I shared with a friend one evening whilst sampling a ‘sharing platter’, which turned out to be 7 actual separate dosas – we were literally dosa drunk by the end of it!

I could tell you about all those things, but I won’t. Because I’d feel like a fraud. I’d feel like I’m missing the bigger picture. Or perhaps hiding from the bigger picture behind all the nice, fluffy, easy bits of everyday life here in Mysore. Which is easily done. In fact most of us do it every day of our lives. It’s much easier to live on the surface of life where things are clear, practical, rational and straightforward (at least most of the time). Why would we want to dive into ourselves where it’s dark, scary and we can’t reach the bottom? As Sharath said in conference recently, “Many people get scared: ‘Oh, I still the mind, I go crazy!’” It’s the same principle here. What if I don’t like what I find? What if I can’t control my inner self? What if I go searching and find there’s nothing really there?

But, to turn that on its head, what if there is something so beautiful and divine inside you that its light could brighten your entire world? What if you spent your whole life never really knowing or being in touch with your soul essence, your soul purpose? What if you spent your whole life feeling like there was something missing, like there must be more to life than this, like something just doesn’t feel quite right – and all because you never looked within, never looked deep enough to find out?

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Completing Angelic Reiki levels 1&2

I’ve heard it said many times that Ashtanga is not the kind of practice that attracts people who are happy in their lives; people who are content with what they have and aren’t interested in finding deeper meaning. Most of the people who come to this practice seem to be searching for something. Perhaps for deeper meaning to their lives. Perhaps for more of a spiritual connection. Perhaps for their soul purpose. Perhaps for enlightenment. We get on the mat day after day after day, practising asana after asana, focussing on our breath, practising mindfulness, studying ancient texts and trying to be a better person. We wonder where all this is going to lead us and continually remind ourselves of Guruji‘s mantra “Practice, practice and all is coming”.

Sometimes this search is exhausting so we seek refuge in the lighter side of life: hanging out with friends; treating ourselves to nice food; and doing things we love that make us feel good. But for me, the last couple of weeks have been a time of going deeper, of allowing space for this search to continue. I had a Vedic astrology reading, then I went for a tarot reading, then I was drawn to an Angelic Reiki course, and most recently I decided to take an Intuitive Living & Psychic Development course. The momentum has been building and I’ve recently had some very intense experiences.

IMG_2699_SmallThe messages are coming through loud and clear for me, as the same themes keep coming up again and again throughout these different exploratory mediums. Intellectually speaking, my rational mind knows what the issues are and how they impact me on a day-to-day basis, but I still struggle with how to resolve them, how to let them go, how to get over them and move on. One very poignant moment for me was during the intuition course. We were doing a meditative exercise where we were focussing on our deepest inner selves and I had this sudden feeling of dropping, as if I was literally dropping into my body, or into my soul. And then a message appeared, as clear as day, that said “You already have all the answers. You can stop searching now.”

I felt a sense of release and a brief lifting. Oh what a relief! Ok, so there’s nothing to do, nothing to look for any more. But then of course my ego or rational mind kicks in and starts with the “Yes, but what does that mean? You don’t really have all the answers do you? Where are they then? What are they? How come you still feel so confused? If you stop searching, what then?”

This battle between the mind/the ego/the external self and the intuition/the inner wisdom/the internal self can be a very challenging one to resolve. The ego can be very clever and manipulative and often speaks much louder than the inner voice of wisdom. I say this from experience, having spent a 4 year period suppressing my intuition and believing my ego was the real me. Eventually, thankfully, my inner voice broke free and started screaming so loudly that I couldn’t ignore it any more. I had to take action, turning my whole life, and the lives of those closest to me, upside down in a heartbeat. But the one thing that kept me going through all the heartache, all the pain and the guilt, was the knowledge, the absolutely clear and unquestionable knowledge, that I was doing the right thing.

And that’s happening for me again right now. Most of the messages I’m getting at the moment are telling me that I’m on the right path, that I’m heading in the right direction. And for someone who’s never had much direction in their life, this is a very positive and reaffirming thing.

InnerselfMany people feel a strong connection when they visit Eastern or Asian countries, and consider places like India to be their spiritual home. I have a similar feeling after living in Mysore for 3 months. But I also feel like I’ve found my spiritual mother and father here. There are two people I’ve met who I’ve felt such a strong affinity with. You know sometimes when you meet someone you feel like you want to talk to them, to spend time with them, to just be near them or maybe to touch them, hug them and feel close to them? Well, that’s what I’ve experienced here. They both happen to be westerners who’ve spent a lot of time in India, and they’re both very inspirational teachers, speakers and healers. I’m so grateful to have met them, to have had the opportunity to spend time with them and learn from them, and I know I’ll be seeing them again sometime soon, somewhere in the world.

And so, as I continue on my journey of self-discovery and self-transformation, I know I will continue searching for the unsearchable. And maybe, gradually, I’ll get closer to finding acceptance. Acceptance of myself, acceptance that I already have all the answers and acceptance of all that is.

In the meantime I’ll continue to practice gratitude. For all that I am and all that I have. And maybe, by sharing my experiences, others might feel encouraged – even inspired – to start looking a little deeper, into that scary place within. That scary, but immensely beautiful and wondrously divine place within ourselves we don’t want to go. And maybe, just maybe, we might catch a glimpse of the eternally glowing light of wisdom and love that we’ve been searching for, for so long, that shines so brightly inside each of us.

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Weekly Mysore Musings: Sun 9th Feb 2014

Photo courtesy of MariaSaraEva Jen

Photo courtesy of MariaSaraEva Jen

This week my practice time changed twice (or was it three times? I can’t keep up!) AND I got 3 more postures. Phew, not used to so much activity in one week! There’s been a big transition of people leaving and arriving as well, so it’s all change at the moment. It can feel a bit unsettling at times but “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Wilson Watts

Sharath seems to have got into the habit of standing at the front of my mat when I’m in Urdhva Dhanurasana so that when I come up he’s right there and I have to be careful not to bump noses with him! It’s a pretty good way to stop me over-shooting when coming up from dropbacks, as the last thing I want to do is hurl myself at him! Last week I almost did and he laughed and said “Too fast!” On Wednesday when he let me all the way down after halfbacks, he told me to walk in about 4 times but I was struggling on the last one, and when I came up he laughed and said “Stuck!”

North Indian Special at Sixth Main restaurant

North Indian Special at Sixth Main restaurant

This week I ate my best thali so far, at Sixth Main restaurant – a favourite eating spot. Most places offer both North and South Indian options and I went for the North Indian special. I can’t tell you exactly what was in it, I just know that everything was delicious! Especially the tomatoey soup, curdrice and buttered kulcha (a bit like a nan bread). Oh and the gulab jamun and ice cream for dessert of course -hence the “special”! While we were there I also saw my first monkeys of the trip. A whole gang of them climbed out of a tree on the other side of the road and ran down the street. Must have been lunch time…

Thursday marked the end of our sutra study classes, where we chanted all 4 padas (chapters) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras across 10 sessions, and Lakshmish explained what they meant. He has a wonderful way of teaching, using examples from everyday life; often relating to his family, his strong desire for an iPhone or his passion for watching Hollywood action movies in his batchelor days. He even confessed to having dreams about flying in a helicopter and shooting people with a machine gun – quite surprising for a Brahmin priest! It was fascinating to gain a better insight into the sutras, which basically set out the principles and practices one should follow in order to become a true yogi. I’m not sure I’ll be mind reading, walking through walls or growing new limbs any time soon, but I certainly have a renewed respect for the yamas and niyamas and how to apply them to everyday life.

This week I visited Ranganathittu bird sanctuary with some friends and it was lovely just to get out of the city for a few hours, as we bumped along in a rickshaw past rice paddies, palm trees, simple villages and the most garishly painted houses I’ve ever seen. There are no cages or aviaries at the sanctuary, which is great, but it does make it very difficult to actually spot any of the birds listed on the signs. The best bit was the brief jaunt down the Cauvery River in a little rowing boat, where we saw lots of storks, pelicans, spoonbills, bats and…. wait for it…. crocodiles!

Ranganathittu has the largest freshwater crocodile population in Karnataka state, so sightings are very common and we weren’t disappointed. We watched them silently gliding through the water with just their eyes and nose above the surface; swimming slyly towards the birds preening themselves on the rocks as if about to pounce at any moment; and basking themselves in the sun so we could appreciate their full enormity. There was a slightly alarming moment when one croc we’d got particularly close to suddenly opened his jaws very wide, then slipped into the water beside our boat. But the boat man assured us it was perfectly safe as the crocodiles weren’t hungry right now!

The obligatory rickshaw shot! (Amy, me, Cherie)

The obligatory rickshaw shot

Birds, bats & bamboo

Birds, bats & bamboo

The Big Bamboo!

The Big Bamboo!

Big croc

Big croc

Ian being a sexy Russian tourist!

Ian being a sexy Russian tourist!

Painted stork colony

Painted stork colony

Cheeky monkey

Cheeky monkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After all this strenuous activity (well I did practice 6 days in a row…), I was knackered by Friday, so decided to have an indulgent me-day. I got a great back and shoulder massage for Rs400 (about £4), then chilled out on the roof terrace of Mystic School, using the sauna (biggest sauna I’ve ever seen), jacuzzi (again, huge but cold water – very refreshing!) and sun loungers. Gosh it’s hard work sometimes this yoga-travelling-malarkey! I also decided to book a Vipassana meditation for the 2 weeks I have spare after I leave Mysore. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and the only centre I could find with the exact dates I needed happened to be the same one a fellow traveller had recently been to. So I’m taking that as a sign from the Angels that it’s meant to be. Now I just have to wait for the acceptance confirmation… exciting but scary!

Mystic School's rooftop cafe and jacuzzi

Mystic School’s rooftop cafe and jacuzzi

Sunday saw my first 4.30am practice. What an experience! There’s something very surreal about getting up at 3.30am when the only other creatures awake are rats, roosters, dogs and other crazy Westerners yawning their way to class. I got a lift on the back of a friend’s scooter: we arrived and joined the throng of sleepy-eyed yogis sitting patiently in the street outside the shala, waiting for the gate to open, like groupies waiting for their favourite band. As soon as the gate opened there was a silent stampede as everyone fought for a spot in the main room, or surrendered and graciously accepted their place in the entrance foyer or changing rooms. When we came out again it was still dark and still felt like the middle of the night. By Sunday evening the practice felt like a lifetime ago and as I crawled into bed at 10pm I realised my mega early practice was still 2-3 hours later than Sharath gets up every day. Now that’s dedication. 

Weekly Mysore Musings: Sun 2nd Feb 2014

Masala dosa. So simple. So delicious.

Masala dosa. So simple. So delicious.

I thought about writing daily posts of my time here in Mysore but there’s simply too much to say and I’d never get anything else done (like eating dosas, shopping, drinking chai, socialising, more shopping…) So I’ve decided to just share the highlights from each week.

During practice on Monday, one of the new assistants was watching my dropbacks, then came over to do halfbacks with me. “Can you catch?” he asked. I was stumped for a second, as I usually only hear that question asked by Sharath in reference to Marichyasana B. Then I realised what he meant. “What, ankles?” I wheezed, “No!” and nearly burst out laughing. “Ok well let’s give it a try” he said, and after going down and walking my hands in about 4 times – the deepest I think I’ve ever gone – I came up again and asked “So how far away was I?” “Yeh, you still have a little way to go,” he replied tactfully. No shit! What is it with Mysore and being able to catch your ankles in backbending?

Our cricket-playing guru

Our cricket-playing guru

On Tuesday a few of us were hanging around outside the shala after sutra class watching Sharath’s son Sambhav playing cricket in the street. He’s so cute and looks just like a mini Sharath! It’s funny to think he might be our new guru one day… or our children’s guru at least. Then Sharath came out to play so we had the privilege of watching him enjoying some downtime with his son. It was so funny: they were hitting cars, rooftops, gates and nearly a cow! It was such a lovely insight into how he manages to perfectly balance being an inspirational yoga guru and a normal, family man at the same time. As they headed back inside, Sharath turned to his son and said (loud enough so we could hear) “Tomorrow you do Kapotasana!” then looked back at us and grinned.

One of my favourite places for breakfast in Gokulam (Mysore’s yogi neighbourhood) is Khushi’s. As is the norm here, the cafe is basically the front room of someone’s house and you sit on floor cushions at large, sharing tables full of yogis either recovering from practice, discussing practice, or drinking coffee to fuel their practice. Khushi’s make the most amazing spinach, tomato & cheese omelettes; spinach & corn toast; ragi pancakes; peanut butter smoothies; and ‘addash’ shakes. These are made from bananas, dates, almond milk, figs and spirulina and are the most beautiful shade of pastel green.

Cheers! Addash shakes at Khushi's

Cheers! Addash shakes at Khushi’s

On this particular day, the shakes were so thick I could turn my glass upside down and the ‘liquid’ wouldn’t move an inch! As I started digging into my shake with a spoon, I was suddenly reminded of Angel Delight and realised how similar the texture was. Why didn’t they ever think of making healthier versions? They’d go down a treat…!

On Friday evening I went to a wonderful Indian classical music concert at the Blue House, which is such a lovely, serene space. Bhima Shanka, one of Karnataka’s most respected Tabla players, was accompanied by Govinda Schlegel on both Sitar & Sarod. I had a very good view right at the front and found myself transfixed, not only on the beautiful music, but also on their wonderful facial expressions, and skilled hand movements. Every now and then they’d build to a very rapid crescendo and Bhima’s hands would drum so fast I thought they might fly right off his wrists! Incredible.

Bhima Shankar on Tabla and Govinda Schlegel on Sarod

Bhima Shankar on Tabla and Govinda Schlegel on Sarod

Yesterday, as I was leaving the shala after sutra class, I got to the bottom of the steps and was just about to find my flip flops, when a man gestured for me to get out of the way. I moved back to the bottom step just as a huge, shiny, silver car appeared from the car park beneath the house and drove along the driveway, right over all the flips flops! I glanced at the driver and lo and behold it was Sharath himself; wearing a shirt and sunglasses, looking like such a dude. Well, if his students are going to leave their shoes strewn across his driveway I guess he has no choice but to drive right over them! Remember Ashtangis: always wear rubber shoes in Mysore.