HEARTFELT MUSINGS ON LIFE, LOVE, GOD, & MOTHERHOOD

SilenceI’ve been finding it hard to get to my mat lately. I’m teaching, but my own precious practice which has been my constant and my best friend for more than 15 years, has gotten a little up-staged by all the other things I love or need to do in a day.

This felt OK for a while, as I was nourished by other things… but last week it really hit me. I felt like I had lost something. Something very subtle, almost indiscernible, but incredibly precious at the same time.

That thing, or no-thing as the case may be, was my Self.

While I was regularly describing this beautiful Spacious Presence, All-Merciful Awareness, Unconditionally Loving, All-Embracing Being that Yoga shows us how to recognise and rest in, I wasn’t making enough time or space to rest in it myself.

Funny that I’ve just used the words ‘time’ and ‘space’ as these, the sages tell us are nothing but mind-made constructs with no inherent Reality to them anyway! The Self simply is, inextinguishable, ever-present.

But knowing that intellectually, and actually being able to rest in the Self, and as the Self, are not the same thing! While hearing the truth and reading the truth will very likely accelerate our chances of actually experiencing the unconfined nature of our Soul, for the majority of people it’s a process of unveiling that takes time and practice.

We really need to be still sometimes. To be quiet. To witness. To give space to the contents of our minds… to just sit and let our thoughts both bubble up and disperse, without taking them personally. The more we do this, the more that witnessing becomes our habit. And whilst we might be feeling something very deeply, the charge of emotion quite strong, still, we can relate to something within us that is absolutely OK. That knows it can contain whatever extremes of experience that life has in store.

But lately I’ve been feeling really pressed for time.

I’ve been adjusting to a new and changing routine, teaching at the times that I would usually practice.

Keeping up, almost, with the demands & delights of being a self-employed Yoga teacher running classes, retreats and workshops, as well as all the business that makes that possible. It’s a lot! I remember a time when we just taught Yoga, but now we have websites, blogs, FB pages, Instagram accounts, and God knows what else to manage!! (Have we all gone completely mad?!)

And while I’ve been very happy exploring other dimensions of existence – nesting back in my home country, relishing in home duties, and finding the sweetest satisfaction in cooking for friends & family, still, for me there is no substitute for a little quiet time alone.

Even the succour of a loving relationship, whilst allaying much of the loneliness that my practice used to, can never be expected to replace what is the source of that Love in the first place.

There is absolutely NO SUBSTITUTE for my relationship with Self, with the Divine, with Silence… call it what you will, for me it’s the sweetness that makes my life worth living.

And the best thing about prioritising that extra-special relationship, is that it only ever improves upon all the other relationships and interests that I strive to juggle.

Our ‘practice time’ might be two hours, or it might be ten minutes. It might have us sailing through the Advanced Series of Astanga Yoga, or simply lying over a bolster or putting our legs up the wall. It’s important that we have realistic expectations that are self-loving and achievable in light of all else that we need to do in a day (I’m feeling all the mamas out there!).

It takes just one spark to light the fire of the Soul, but constant maintenance to keep it burning. Our practices are like the wood that it hungrily consumes, inspiration the wind that keeps it licking and dancing in space!

Far from being selfish, it’s my belief that peace in this world will only ever be possible when each of us takes responsibility for our own heart flame – doing what’s needed to keep it burning bright, and walking away from whatever puts it out. Easier said than done. But what a worthwhile challenge.

May we all, in time, come to know the true meaning of  Love.

Om Namo Narayani

“If you could only keep quiet, clear of memories and expectations, you would be able to discern the beautiful pattern of events. It’s your restlessness that causes chaos.”  ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

Byron Handstand“Don’t collapse on yourself. I know that you’re strong enough so just keep your arms straight, lock your elbows, and don’t collapse on yourself.”

This is what I say when teaching handstand to beginners. So you can imagine my shock one day when those words came flooding back, and I realised that that’s exactly what I’d been doing for years. Collapsing on myself.

Not literally. Not in handstand, but in life.

When the going got tough, or rough, and I could sense a possible failure coming on, there’d be something in me that just wanted to collapse. To give it all up and walk away. I just didn’t want to play anymore.

All my favourite spiritual cliches would come leaping to my supposed rescue –  “There’s nothing to do anyway”; “I just want to beeee“; “All this marketing hoohah is just a trick of the ego – we’re all such suckers to get caught up in it” (and yes, maybe we are, but playing small and hiding from one’s purpose is a trick of the ego too!).

Underlying this collapse were of course my old friends doubt and fear. And I suspect that anyone who’s ever done or created anything of worth will know these two intimately.

And that’s the whole point. As my friend Brigitte Koch (and first Australian woman to climb Everest) wrote in a wonderful blog of hers recently beyondthesmile.net, they should really change that T-shirt from “No Fear” to “Know Fear”. Because no fear means hiding in the safe and predictable, avoiding the sometimes painful discomfort that’s an inevitable part of sharing your deepest Self with the world. Knowing fear, on the other hand, says, “I see you”, but I choose to proceed anyway.

It’s very freeing. At least that’s how I felt when I finally called a spade a spade and acknowledged that despite being a natural-born freebalance handstander since the age of about 8, I was still collapsing on myself all the time.

I saw it and named it, recognising a pattern that until then I’d been justifying, rationalising, and therefore falling victim to.

So what next?

What do you do when you’ve just fallen out of handstand for the 18th time in a row?

1) Try again?
2) Improve your tactics?

Having watched hundreds of students over the years violently and haphazardly throwing themselves against walls possessed with the notion of mastering handstand, I’m pretty sure that taking a pause to re-think your tactics is a much smarter (and self-loving) way to proceed. And here’s what that might look like in daily life:

#1   Ask for help. Find a mentor, friend, coach… someone who’s been where you want to go.

#2   Hang out with passionate, positive people (as confronting/nauseating as that can be when in the grip of a bout of collapse).

#3   Get really clear about what you want to do and why.

#4   Get out of your own bloody way! Imagine you’re talking a friend through this. Try not to take yourself so personally.

#5   Just start. Choose 1 thing and just do that. If you focus too much on everything you need to do it can be completely overwhelming , so instead re-focus onto just 1 thing and set about doing that. The rest can wait.

Because this is our Yoga really. To keep breaking the shackles of our conditioned beliefs. Learning to be OK with discomfort. Orchestrating lives of beauty and abundance, creativity and joy, daring to birth our dreams and aspirations even as we fear we might split in two.

We might use Warrior and Handstand and other ridiculous looking Arm Balances to get to know our edges. But it’s in everyday life that we put this insight to use – as mothers, and lovers, teachers, and small business owners.

Om Asato Maa Sat Gamaya    
Tamaso Maa Jyotir Gamaya    
Mrityor maa Amritam Gamaya

May we be led from ignorance to truth; from darkness to light; from survival-mode to the remembrance of the continuity of the Soul!

And, dare I add, for as long as we rock this mortal flesh may the Radiant Im-mortal Self be passionately expressed through our thoughts, words, actions, and vocation.

“Don’t be afraid. You’re only dreaming” from the song ‘When the night comes’ by Dan Auerbach (which, would you believe, my partner started playing just as I was finishing this blog).

Om Namo Narayani

IMG_2503 I often hear from friends and students that they feel ‘stuck’ in their Yoga teaching or practice. I know exactly how they feel because it happens to me all the time. We want to know how to move forward. It’s an excellent question.

But I wonder is the solution really another new technique? A longer ratio in pranayam? Mastery of yet another asana? Or does the answer lie simply in living our Yoga more fully?

I like to think of life like a pie, each slice representing a different aspect of our humanity. A slice for work/career, a slice for relationship, family, creativity, home, spirituality/growth, service, and so on. And my sense is that progression in Yoga means taking a closer look at that pie from time to time to see if it actually represents our highest aspirations?

Does our outer life adequately reflect our inner life?

Are there any areas that feel disconnected, in contradiction to, or an obstacle to any others?

These are excellent questions, that show me in no uncertain terms exactly where I have work to do.

For a long time my work and spirituality/growth pie slices (because as a Yoga teacher these have mostly been one and the same) were super fat and juicy while my home and relationship slithers would’ve left a gnat still wanting.

This is not to say that we should have perfectly compartmentalised lives with specific ratios for everything we do. Not at all. It’s more to do with what we value, and if there’s something that we value that remains un-investigated or un-lived (even if we pretend that we don’t really care), then we will feel unfulfilled. We won’t be living all of the life we were born to live.

And so for me, home and the heart form the landscape for much of my Yoga right now.

My personal practice has always been a very intuitive thing, and whatever I’ve needed to read or hear or do next has just showed up or arisen internally at just the right time. When my asana practice was a lot more impressive than it is now, it wasn’t because I had a preconceived idea or desire to “get”  this or that pose. It was more that the postures themselves kept revealing or unfolding themselves before me, or inside me, taking me gradually deeper into more extreme variations.

Until they didn’t.

I remember the morning that I sat post-practice, eating porridge at the kitchen bench of my friend and Yoga Arts director Louisa Sear. “I think I might have peaked” I said. She laughed and asked me how old was I again? (she’s not got the best of memories!). “36” I replied. “Yep” she said in agreement, “same thing happened for me at about that age”.  We both started practising very young by the way – she at 17, me at 21, so 36 was after more than 15yrs of practice. It’s not the age that’s important here but the process.

Now at 50 I know she still practices almost every day, but free of the need to get anywhere. So how do we keep going deeper in our Yoga without breaking our bodies in two? Or exhausting our minds with an excess of information?

My feeling is this: by letting it infiltrate each and every aspect of our lives. By staying very alert and awake to the situations in which we contract or close down. At the same time nurturing an ever-growing compassion and patience towards our humanness.

Every Thursday for the last month or so I’ve been hanging with my 14-month old friend Kaiin, while his Mum, my good friend goes to her Art class. This time feels like Yoga to me, except that he is the teacher and I am the student.

His innocence, curiosity, and absolute delight in pushing an old broom around our living room melt my heart in a similar way to kirtan. The small rocks and ‘dead’ leaves he picked up and showed me yesterday found their way to my altar as symbols of the divinity that is everywhere when we bother to notice. The satisfaction I feel when he’s fed and sleeping soundly is much better than that from any arm balance I ever did.

Because ultimately life is about relationship. And our Yoga practice the training ground for getting better at it. A friend once cracked me up by saying, “I swear I’m enlightened when I’m on my own!”. Me too I thought. Why does it all fall apart as soon as I open my mouth to talk to somebody?!

This fluid, breathing, unpredicatble Reality we call Life is the playground for integration. And Yoga gives us the presence and courage to do just that. To integrate. To have our spiritual aspirations made manifest in this world, through our everyday words and actions. To learn how to really love somebody. To see the Deity in the radiance of a sunrise. To be in satsang with the sound of the rain on the roof. To remember God as you’re doing the dishes and feel the simple subtle bliss of that.

So if you, as I do, feel a bit ‘stuck’ in your Yoga practice sometimes, then just let the magnifying glass of awareness run over your thoughts and actions for the course of a day. Or take another look at the pie of your life, and if there’s still places and spaces that Yoga doesn’t penetrate, then that is exactly where you need to go next. Every second of your past the preparatory vinyasa for your next bold move.

“The seeds of purification are within you, nurture those and you will awaken. The form helps, but it is the awareness that liberates.”  ~ Sayadaw U Pandita

Om Namo Narayani

pondering...Lying in the bath late at night, reading my novel, the sudden predicament of it’s lovable main character prompted me to ask myself the question, “If I found out I was going to die very soon, what would I do?”.

The first thoughts that came to mind were more about what I would not be doing. Like working on a new e-zine for example. Or trying to drive more traffic to my Facebook page. I suspect I’d be utterly relieved and liberated of the need to be anybody or do anything at all.

I’d drop the grudges that I know still niggle at my heart sometimes. I’d tell everyone I know that I love them, which I’d have only just realised quite so fully. I’d drop all of the judgements that I still hold against myself, tear off the invisible hair shirt that I don from time to time – punishment for what I have deemed to be unskilful actions of the past.

I’d forgive my friends and family for not always being perfect. I’d just let them be. I’d let a lot of things and a lot of people simply be.

I would shut down my computer and walk outside, and thank God for every tree and every flower, every creature and critter that I saw. I wouldn’t be afraid of anything or anyone. I would rejoice – liberated at last from the tyranny of the future (that never quite arrives as anticipated anyway), and just be in the fullness of the present.

I would know that I am already enough. That my Being is love and nothing that can be, or needs to be improved upon.

I would breathe, slowly. I would speak, boldly. I would realise that actually I’m not confused at all, never was. That it was all simply a trick of the mind, a case of mistaken identity.

I would laugh. I would really really laugh my arse off, most likely until I cried for the terrible pain that we inflict upon ourselves and each other in the name of God. Knowing that I am God I would know that love is all there is and that all the rest is nothing but a game of cops and robbers, hide & seek.

And then I would most likely get on a plane to India, for although I would know this whole world to be Her body, I would want to get as close as I could to Her heart. And then I’d curl up right there in the arms of my Mother Narayani, overcome with gratitude that at last, She killed me, my life’s purpose fulfilled.

2 days later…

Far out. What a powerful process it was to all of a sudden ask myself that question. It utterly shifted my perspective. Yesterday was such a beautiful fluid day, doing mostly very ‘ordinary’ things, but lived from a place of cherishing existence and all that showed up within it, as though it were one of my last.

In Buddhist practice meditations on death are commonly used, because it’s only by recognising how precious and how short life is that we choose not to sweat the small stuff. Acknowledging each day as a gift and potentially our last, we remember what’s important, and drop what’s not.

Meditation on Dying

If moved to, I invite you to join me. Sit quietly for a moment and ponder the question, “If I found out I was going to die very soon, what would I do?”.

After some time grab a pen and paper and just scribble down your thoughts and feelings in an uncensored, free-write kind of way. See what comes…

And then live that insight. A beautiful way to support this is by taking a moment on both rising in the morning, and going to sleep at night.

Upon rising, when you first open your eyes and start to hear the sounds of the world, before you launch into a tirade of thought about what you need to get done that day, just lie for a moment and acknowledge the sounds around you (yes, even if it’s your kids screaming!), and just be the space in which those sounds arise. Remember the Eternal, Unlimited, Pure Awareness that you are – big enough to hold all the comings and goings without getting obliterated by them. And ponder the thought, if today were my last, how would I choose to live?

And then again, at night, before going to sleep, skim over your day finding something to be grateful for. Let your awareness ‘zoom out’, shifting perspective from being the Star in your life drama to the quiet spacious Witness of it all. Rest in, and as that. Remember what’s important, let go of what’s not. Forgive. Allow. Love.

“Normally we do not like to think about death. We would rather think about life. Why reflect on death? When you start preparing for death you soon realize that you must look into your life now… and come to face the truth of your self. Death is like a mirror in which the true meaning of life is reflected”.    ~ Sogyal Rinpoche

Om Namo Narayani

Moving on…

19.12.14

Valentine-TreeI’m on my way home to Australia. After all these years of moving here and there, I really want to live where I don’t need a visa. I’d very much like to plant a tree and watch it grow. As I pack up one chapter on the precipice of the next, I’m also humbly aware of the will to grow inside myself, that never allows me to get too comfortable.

At the halfway mark now in Singapore, we’re right in the thick of it – closing accounts, transferring funds, packing, sorting, and shipping ourselves home. It’s a mission! I keep reminding myself that this too shall pass and in the seeming blink of an eye we’ll be sitting on a Byron Shire verandah, sipping Japanese hoji-cha from a Balinese teapot, so glad that we made all this effort.

In many ways the physical move is the easy part. The harder part, and that which I’m finding near impossible to describe, is that which is shifting internally. It’s been like this for several months now and I’m no closer to any kind of definitive conclusion.

In fact much of what’s been going down is about letting go of any need for any definitive anything. Seeing how much my mind craves certainty, a method, a master, something, anything, that gives it some ground – some feeling like it’s doing things right. And yet simultaneously a powerful rebellion that really just wants to trust itself, to find out for itself, to let the Dancing Energy that flows through these veins keep moving me on down the river.

I’ve been shocked, saddened and also strangely encouraged by the recent exposure of the physical and sexual abuse of children and teens at the Satyananda Yoga Ashram at Mangrove Mountain, from the mid-70’s to late 80’s. Although the Swami responsible was convicted at that time, the actual details and extent of the damage done is only now coming out en masse, as well as testimonies implicating Satyananda himself as a perpetrator of abuse.

I have no desire to comment here on the details of those findings, I only wish to share what this is bringing up for me. And that is something like the renewal of a vow to commit to my own heart, my own gut, my own instincts and bodily sensations above all else, no matter what it costs me by way of approval, belonging or safety.

I remember some years ago during a time of confusion, imploring to whoever or whatever cared to listen… “but there has to be something that I can trust? …there has to be something that I can depend upon?”.

I could see the unreliability of my mind and its whims, but I couldn’t go against the very instincts of my body. And so I’m handing it all over to these 2 things now: the wisdom of sensation, and the irrefutable truth of Reality as it unfolds before me.

I tried to break up with my partner once, in the very beginning when I was still convinced that we were just too different to find a common path. My long-winded break-up speech over, he took a deep breath and gave me a big hug. And from his very honest heart came words to the effect that he altogether disagreed. He didn’t know the future of course, and couldn’t control me, but thought we were worth a bit more of my time. Next thing we know we’re in the kitchen eating olives, lip-syncing to the song “Gamble Everything for Love” using cutlery for microphones, laughing our heads off.

“What happened?”, I wondered. “I thought I just broke up with you?”.

This is what I mean. The intelligence of Life that just keeps on unfolding, keeps on moving us forward, keeps on pushing the right books off the shelf into our laps at just the right time. Keeps us growing and opening as the love and light that might very well be the truth of who we are, seemingly despite us sometimes.

In light of yet another tale of fallen guru, it’s this Intelligence to which I offer my unwavering allegiance. This mysterious Shakti that manifests as a single white lotus delivered into my hands immediately after giving a lecture on Saraswati. And while this Light might reveal itself much more brightly through various human forms at different times, it should be the Light itself and not the forms that we bow to.

I still believe that Love and Silence are the ultimate teachers. The recognition of sameness in the heart of another. The willingness simply to observe and embrace the unfolding of all this just as
it is; to love and forgive ourselves just as we are. Teachers and methods may come and go – showing up right when, and for as long as we need them.

Right now my teacher sits across from me at the table, shouting down the phone in exasperation at some poor girl from the bank. God love him. God love me. God love you. God love all of us. As the tides of destiny (or whatever) keep pushing me on, all I can do is surrender to the current.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”  ~ Lao Tzu

Om Namo Narayani

Saraswati-1One of the more challenging paradoxes in sharing Yoga & meditation, or any other healing art, is that before we can possess any genuine wisdom, we need to have made our fair share of mistakes. Often we need to have misunderstood, before we can truly understand. Despite all our prayers to progress swiftly along the path without a hitch, it’s the twists and turns that really humble us before the teachings, bring the words to life, and allow us then to share with others with empathy and genuine insight.

Still though, it’s tough sometimes to be ‘teaching’ Yoga while questioning a lot of what comes out of your mouth. I’ve been doing this lately. It’s something that happens periodically, and that I’ve come to recognise as an invaluable part of my evolution as both teacher and human being. The rug gets pulled out from what I thought I knew, or what had become comfortable, and I find myself questioning myself and everything else all over again.

I find myself asking, “what went wrong?”, “why isn’t it working like it used to?”. Be it a sequence or lecture, my own practice, or simply my way of being in the world. Everything keeps changing. All. The. Time.

We know this of course. But do we really?

Change always comes as such a surprise. Maybe that’s why we resist it so much. We want to grow, but would prefer it if we could choose when and how it happens. Instead the reality of impermanence is busy finding new and creative ways to freak us out.

It can be both shocking and uncomfortable when something that has until now worked so well for me, starts to fall flat. At first I take it very personally – it must be something that I did or didn’t do or say. I feel like a fake and a failure. I try for a while to figure it out until I surrender to the fact that I’m never going to get it back. The person that taught, thought, felt or acted that way no longer exists. Life has moved on. I’d best try to keep up.

And this is such a good thing!!!

Can you imagine if you went to see a band and they played the same old tunes, in the same old way, saying the same old things between numbers? It would be awful.

As the years go by and we keep on doing our practice, both internally and externally, the dogma gets discarded while the truth of experience remains. There is less and less to believe in, or should I say less and less need to believe. There is no disputing the flower you hold in your hand. There is no disputing the truth you have seen for yourself.

Abhyasa and vairagya are very impressive looking words on a white board. They sound equally good when spoken with a proper roll of the tongue. But what do they really mean? Abhyasa – constant inner practice, is more than just busting out an asana sequence each morning. Constant inner practice is remaining always alert to the stories we tell ourselves, the ways in which we keep trying to get more comfortable, and the ways that we try to hold on. Our external practices are nothing but the training ground for this constant inner practice of forgiveness and love.

Vairagya, or detachment, is exactly what we need to cushion the falls. It ensures that we not take ourselves too seriously as we move through the journey of life. That we might find gratitude for the downs as well as the ups, and recognise our suffering as indispensable for growth. Detachment invites us, in the words of Ram Dass, to “learn to watch our drama unfold while at the same time knowing we are more than our drama.”

By the grace and mercy of the Divine spark within each of us, all of our strategies eventually backfire. Thank God for this. She lets us rest from time to time, to catch our breath, and then once more we get kicked out of the nest. We are refused the boob for a while.

But, as human beings who aspire to guide other human beings on this path of Love, we should be grateful for these challenges. They are the ocean bed from where we will reap our own unique stories and pearls of wisdom. If we’re not entirely convinced that what we’ve been saying or doing is still true for us, then we can admit that. We can change. We can summon the courage to look deeper. Maybe even make friends with not knowing for a while. Who knows, we might actually be getting closer to the truth.

“Suffering is part of our training program for becoming wise.” ~ Ram Dass

Om Namo Narayani

Halfway Cafe

13.11.14

Sri LankaI feel myself emerging. The kiss of sun on barer skin and daily swims in a cool, clear Sri Lankan ocean that’s just a stroll from the doorstep, are bringing my juju back. At last I feel to write.

I’m still not sure how to share what’s been happening over the past months, since I last wrote, or whether it’s even necessary. But I feel the need to try – for me as much as for you.

It’s felt like a waking up of sorts, but of my humanity more than my divinity. Without pre-meditation or any conscious decision to do so, I’ve sort of just stepped out for a bit from the leading role in my life, partly because I got bored of playing it, and partly perhaps to assess my performance thus far.

I’m pretty sure it’s a ‘turning 40’ thing as I’ve watched a couple of close friends do something very similar over the last few years, as they too began their mid-life re-evaluations. Oh my God! But it makes sense huh? If I should be blessed to live until I’m 80 then right now I’m exactly half way.

For me it’s been both disorienting and liberating. Disorienting, because all of a sudden the same things don’t feel like they’re working in the same ways that they used to. Life is like that – nothing stays the same for very long. And liberating, because while letting go of some crutches leaves me less and less to hold on to, it’s also freeing me up to live more from my gut – to listen a bit harder to that quieter voice inside that doesn’t always buy into my theories.

Truth speaks through sensation – when we hear or see or feel it we get goosebumps. And so when we’re not being completely honest with ourselves, the same applies. We don’t feel quite right. I get sad, or lethargic, or irritable, even angry. I know then that I need to change something.

And while often a bit uncomfortable, these are the times that we grow the most. Confusion is usually followed by a period of greater clarity. Sadness by a deeper compassion. Replacing the battery in the dogma alarm from time to time is essential to being truly authentic.

I remember as a kid that my Dad would restore old furniture on the weekends. He’d sit for hours using just a small piece of glass to scratch back thick layers of bright, glossy, toxic paint to reveal the naked beauty of whatever wood was hiding underneath.

The last months have felt a bit like that.

In my case the naked wood is the beauty of the Self, but it’s also the beauty of the Self incarnate in the human form of Lucy, just as she is, with desires, flaws, and preferences. Realising that those desires too are all part of the larger plan, and that some things just need to be lived before they can be understood, let alone renounced. Some mistakes just have to be made in order to see more clearly. Knowledge comes from books, but wisdom is gleaned from experience. Nobody else can tell me how to live my life right, and I no longer want them to.

I’m actually looking forward to making more mistakes. Getting my hands good and dirty as we plant our vegie garden. More than ever I just want to be in this world – human, flawed, ordinary. Divine love and human love don’t feel so far apart anymore. Spiritual and mundane are blurring nicely into one another.

Do I long to be free from the tyranny of the mind? Yes. Do I seek to know and share Love in its fullest expression? Absolutely. Do I seek to transcend this human experience? No, not one bit. Is there a sense of urgency? No, not really anymore.

It’s getting much harder at this age to fool myself about who I am and what I want, and that’s a beautiful thing. Whatever desires remained unlived, instead of being something to overcome, are showing me where I need to go next to learn what I still need to learn. Life is the playing field and experience the teacher and there’s no way through but through. I say this all the time.

Here at the half-way mark the rose coloured glasses have come right off, but so too has much of the harshness of self-judgement. Spiritual, material, temple, forest… none of them seem so different anymore. The path stretches out before me, and I feel very excited to walk it. I sense it’s going to take me down some very different roads.

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ~ Andy Warhol

Om Namo Narayani

FaithI’ve been thinking lately about Faith – an almost passé notion in this high-speed, high-tech, temperature-controlled world of ours, and how paradoxically it’s exactly because we can now control so much, that we need to nurture our faith more than ever before.

Modern media talks about faith as though something from the Olden Days, when we were naïve and uneducated, still dancing around the May Pole – a relic from a time where we still needed priests, religion, and old wives tales to tell us right from wrong.

And now, where we can, and do manipulate just about everything from the food we grow to the genes of the child we want to bear, faith seems all a bit old-school. But as hard as we try to resist the fact, we are still completely out of control. Just like we always were. The wheel of samsara spins effortlessly around the finger of the Goddess and we Her mortal subjects are still born, and die, according to Her will.

While the developments of science are extraordinary – keyhole heart surgery for teeny tiny babies, IVF, in-utero detection of possible birth defects in a grapefruit-sized foetus, transplants, transfusions and all the rest, still, man and his science remain limited. A normally infertile couple can be assisted to have children, but the fate of that child absolutely no one can predict or control.

Where science ends, faith begins. Faith’s greatest hour is the one in which “love becomes impossible and the heart has turned to stone” (Thomas Merton). When logic and reason have run out of arguments and the statistics are not on our side. When my will is exhausted and there’s nothing left to lose, faith suddenly comes back into vogue.

In just the last week I’ve heard 3 different stories from beautiful friends about the births of their children. None went quite to plan. And all reported reaching the absolute limit of their human capacity, before finding the faith to do what was needed.

One said, “I got to the point in my labour where I knew I couldn’t do it – the intensity was just too much. And then I heard my guru’s voice in my ear say, ‘Of course you can’t do it, but Love can. Get out of the way and let Love do the impossible.’ From that moment on it all made sense. I let go and allowed for the force of Love itself to deliver my child.”

Another a new mother of very premature twins, told me that at just around the time that she could finally take her girls home (after nearly 3months in hospital), one of them became dangerously and unexplainably ill. Desperate, exhausted, and fast losing faith, a psychic friend told her, “She (your daughter) is still completely bonded with you and she’s feeling whatever you are. You need to get it together. If you can stay strong, calm and focused, she will recover”.

And so she did. For another whole day at least, she watched her daughter’s impossibly tiny frame shake and convulse with fever, but she remained steady. Medical science had no clue, but a mother’s love transcended all fear. She found the strength and the faith that pulled her daughter back to life.

The third story is less about what needed doing, and more about letting go. This friend is an accomplished Yoga teacher who’d done all the right things, and felt amazing leading up to her son’s birth. She had hoped and prepared for a natural water birth with minimal intervention. Instead she had a 3-day labour culminating in a C-section under total anaesthesia, unable to pull her newborn baby up to her breast as she’d imagined herself doing so many times.

Faith for this friend, has meant letting go. Letting go of her script, and surrendering to what actually unfolded. Trusting that whatever happened could have been no other way – the perfect entrance for the strawberry-blonde boy who now runs around her feet with boundless energy and curiosity for life.

The Sanskrit word for faith is shraddha. And maybe because it’s such an unpopular concept these days it was first translated to me as, ‘the willingness to try’. The willingness to investigate the unseen and unknown, and to trust in the wise who suggest a different way. To gamble everything for love, with no guarantee, because we suspect that things might just work out for the better.

Love asks us to risk something – to let something go, with no guarantee that our efforts will bear fruit. And this to me is true faith, the willingness to try often contrary to popular opinion, contrary to scientific evidence, and contrary to the fears that would have us give up.

Faith for me is inseparable from surrender. They go hand in hand. Without faith we cannot surrender, and without surrender faith remains mere lip service. At the end of the day faith is a choice – to align ourselves with our deepest instincts and highest aspirations. Ultimately it’s a choice to trust in Reality, free from or despite our fear.

Did we do it right? Are we making a mistake? Are we gambling too much?

Who knows? And who cares?! Are we getting freer? Lighter? Looser? More loving? These should be the questions. Faith begets faith. Trust begets trust. But we’ll never know unless we try.

“Science is by experiment first and experience later; whereas in gyana (wisdom) belief comes first and experience later.”   ~ Sri Sakthi Amma

Om Namo Narayani

HarmonyPerfection. A word I’ve been pondering for about a week (and a lifetime), as we complete another month-long teacher training. As usual I learned as much as our ‘students’, who have all touched my heart and kindled the fire of freedom inside me, for Yoga is more about un-learning than learning after all. And what I’m un-learning, along with all these new friends-upon-the-way, is that the path of Yoga, and indeed the path of Love, is less about perfecting ourselves and more about embracing the imperfect within us.

Because nothing in the world of form will ever be perfect! It simply cannot be. Everything here is changing, shifting, evolving, dying. Nothing stays the same for very long. And whilst the perfect Love that caused it all remains ever at peace, the Lila – the play of life, relies on some imbalance. The disturbances are what keep the whole thing fresh. To paraphrase Rumi, if our hands were always a fist, or always stretched open, we’d be paralysed.

And yet we tend to resist this fact, time and time again. We’ll take health, wealth, love and peace any day of the week, but if otherwise we wonder what went wrong.

I’m a real lover of harmony and balance – in my relationships, my living space, and the arrangement of the food I serve – these are the things that bring me joy and safety. I love to see fresh flowers placed perfectly equidistant between the edges of my coffee table. When I go to the bathroom I can’t help but line up the edge of the bathmat with the edge of the bathroom cabinet, multiple times a day. Even if I go to bed at 3am I will likely first fluff up the cushions on the couch and arrange them symmetrically according to colour and pattern.

And I know I’m not alone here.

I can pick my fellow perfectionists a mile off. In fact their ratios are quite high on Yoga teacher trainings. They can be spotted by their clean, colour coordinated outfits, and homework neatly written or typed, clearly set out, and handed in on time (and if late it’s because it took them three times longer than everyone else to do it so well). They’ve usually got a pretty good grasp of things (these perfectionists are no dum-dums), and are passionate, enthusiastic students. They also tend to be a little bit ‘tight’. And I don’t mean muscles here but generally, emotionally, attitudinally ‘tight’. It’s quite exhausting trying to be perfect all the time, let me tell you, and necessarily results in a bit of tension.

Perfectionists are usually very good at what they do. You can count on them. They strive to do and be their best always. If only they knew how impressive they were.

But of course they feel like failures half the time because the thing about perfection is that it doesn’t actually exist. It’s fleeting. Just when you think you’ve found it, it’s gone again. The game has changed. Wham! The flowers I bought yesterday are already dying. Somebody’s gone and sat on the couch and messed up the bloody cushions!

My revelations of the last week have been all about this. Because I’m really very tired of suffering my own imperfection – my absolute inability to consistently get everything right. I’ve been trying my whole life but I’m finally ready to throw in the towel. The formula is nowhere to be found.


Unless…

The perfection that I seek is to be found instead, in utterly embracing the imperfection. In loving and allowing for the ebb and flow of success and failure, praise and blame. And then, in the spirit of Yoga and radical un-learning, smile, and say, “I see you”. “I see you Perfectionist Tyrant and the way you steal my innocence, making me feel that I should be more than I am, and able to control what I just cannot. Thanks for your astuteness, and your keen observations, but I’ve decided just to let this one slide. Love me God, love me, Your imperfect daughter, as I dance in Your imperfect world. Help me accept, allow and forgive, and learn the true meaning of Love.”

From a recent letter from a student:

“When we did the last session and you read your beautiful poem, and the tears flowed, for me it was such a liberating moment full of self love. I realised that I am me and it’s OK to love myself, and that everything I need is within me already.”

Yes. Yes! We are all just so lovely just as we are, perfect variations of an Ultimate Theme.  If I think of Yoga as a path of perfecting myself, then sometimes I feel beaten before I’ve begun. But if I think of it instead as a path of Love – of embracing the fullness of life in a body, and celebrating Source with every breath, then the sweetness and possibility of that naturally draw me on.

As usual, it’s a paradox. In wholeheartedly, unreservedly loving myself, then I no longer want to limit my light. Without directly trying, I perfect myself anyway. Slowly but surely I trust more, worry less, and let the Dancing Energy within me show the way.

“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depth of their hearts where neither sin, nor desire, nor self-knowledge can reach; the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem would be that we would all fall down and worship each other.”
               ~ Christian mystic Thomas Merton, quoted in Jack Kornfield’s ‘The Wise Heart’

Om Namo Narayani

Sri Lanka TTCIt’s a pretty special thing when you get paid to do what you really love. To find ‘the thing’ that gives you purpose and meaning, as well as an income. More than ever before, we’re stepping off the hamster wheel and out of survival mode to question what it is that we really want to give ourselves to? What it is that lights us up? And what it is that brings us joy while also making a positive contribution to the world in which we live?

And thus, more people than ever before are embarking on the journey of a Yoga Teacher Training Course.

In the midst of the 3rd week of the current one we’re running, and in the 12 years since the first course that I taught on, I’ve noticed it’s so often these questions that are bubbling away in the minds of our participants, and a big part of why many of them have come to train. Yoga has been the vehicle for the waking up process that started all the questioning in the first place, and they’re hungry for more.

This is a wonderful thing.

And as a result there’s a course happening on practically every corner of every street in the world, or so it feels from here in Ubud where there are almost as many ‘teacher trainees’ as there are palm trees swaying in the breeze. Bankers, doctors, advertising execs, graphic designers, chefs, school teachers, mothers, small business owners, and all the rest are taking ‘a month off’ to dive into Yoga.

And then, after as little as 200 hrs training, we’re certified to teach, and turn our passion into our job and means of livelihood if we choose to.

It’s potentially the beginning of a life-changing journey, but, like all good stories, not without some anti-heroes and misadventures. When we start to ‘sell our art’, whatever it happens to be, we’ll probably have our values tested at numerous points along the way.

This isn’t a bad thing, but a chance to get to know ourselves in our entirety, for better or for worse. As Yoga awakens our higher chakras, the business of Yoga shows us where the lower ones are struggling to keep up. In the end it’s all good, and it’s all Yoga. Meeting our shadows is part of the path, and what will eventually make us a truly good teacher.

I’ve made a list below of what I feel to be the best, and most challenging aspects of making Yoga your profession:

The Good Stuff
– The more I teach the more I realise that I am eternally the student. If I shied away from the challenge of teaching (as I often want to), then I would lose that chance to continually learn and grow.
– Teaching means having to step up, show up, commit, and be prepared to serve. This helps to ‘organise’ my practice and life in a way that most definitely serves me too.
– Sharing Yoga is a great honour and hugely rewarding to make a living doing something so beneficial for all involved.
–  I love the freedom of sharing a service, as opposed to selling a ‘thing’. What is transferred is subtle, there’s no need for any ‘stuff’. The student realises that what they’re looking for is already inside of them, and absolutely free of charge. Whilst they might pay for some instruction sometimes, the keys to the door of the heart are theirs and available anytime they choose to go within, thus breaking the cycle of excessive consumption.
– I get to hang out with really lovely people in a sacred environment, where masks and pretensions can safely fall away. There’s a lot of potential to really meet people, in a very deep, authentic, and intimate  way.
– Flexibility in a teaching schedule often means greater balance between work, and all the other things I love to do with my life.
– Opening and surrendering to be moved, guided, and inspired while teaching puts me in a very receptive and grateful place. It’s so obvious that “I” am not doing it alone.
– I often make enduring friendships with students and so get to witness the huge life changes that so often follow a training or retreat. This keeps me both inspired and ever-humbled by the power of the practice.

The Stuff to Look out for… (I don’t wanna say ‘bad’, because in the end it’s all good if we can catch this clever ego and refuse to play it’s games)

– Marketing wants to make you a Somebody, while Yoga wants to make you a Nobody.
This is not an easy challenge to reconcile. There’s no good in hiding your light under a bushel, but at the same time let’s try and keep it real. Honesty and humility are beautiful things. There’s no need to excessively big yourself up.
– Don’t box yourself into a Yogic stereotype – be who you are.
Promote yourself as honestly as you can. Especially if you’re a new teacher, just share the facts of what you’ve studied, and maybe something personal about what you love about Yoga and why or what you want to share. That’s much more appealing than all the internationally-recognised, highly-regarded, sought after, most advanced practitioner, Yoga master blah blah blah.
– Keep putting yourself in the position of student.
There’s a sweetness and an innocence in ‘beginner mind’… in not knowing. Making Yoga our profession can make it all a bit serious, and burden us with thinking that we need to know more than we do. When we feel like this it’s good to go and be the student again, as well as keeping up other interests.
– Put your money where your mouth is: when your Yoga gets entangled with your finances, business principles can start to take precedence over yogic principles. So don’t sell out. No amount of money or success is worth losing your Soul for. Trust that integrity will always be rewarded.
– Most of us fall a little bit short of the person we really want to be, but this tension helps us learn and grow. Don’t let it drown you when it rears it’s head in any of the following ways:
Disappointment – being bummed that only 2 people showed up, or your class was a bit off.
Impatience – for a level of expertise in both practice and teaching that takes time, persistence and humility to earn. One day at a time.
Fear – of not having enough… students, knowledge, money, reputation, success.

I can only write this list because I’ve experienced the temptation, or fallen prey to just about all of these things at one time or another. And you probably will too, because that’s how we learn.

After 18 years of practice and 14 years of teaching, I am massively expanding my definition of what it means to live and share Yoga. The asana, pranayama and meditation are just the tools that we use, after all, to connect us with that state of being in which the heart’s deepest desires and aspirations are aligned with our words, thoughts and actions day-to-day. It’s not necessary that we teach these tools to be living a Yogic life. In the spirit of the Bhagavad Gita I sincerely feel that if we do our work, whatever it is, with love, dedication, and detachment from its fruits, then anything can be Yoga.

More than teachers of Yoga we need sincere practitioners of Yoga, doing whatever it is that they do best – art, business, building, healing, farming, caring, or teaching, with as much wisdom, compassion, and integrity as they can.

And if you feel drawn to teach Yoga then you should. Go and share this precious practice with as many people as you can, using it all the while to polish your own heart and mind, so that your actions rather than your advertising serve to brighten and enlighten this world.

“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.” ~ from The Bhagavad Gita

Om Namo Narayani