Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Receiving, as much as Giving, is an act of Yoga.

Being in the "yogasphere," there's often a lot of hype or hearsay about what makes someone "yogic."

You've probably deduced that I love this topic. I get to read articles published by dear friends, peruse ancient texts (FYI "peruse" means to read carefully and not skim - who knew?), review research in science and education publications, and I get to practice alongside and under guidance of incredible yoga teachers and gurus.  But one of my favorite kinds of learning is one that unexpectedly sheds the light on all of the elements I choose to formally study: Talking to my parents.

My mom recently shared a story with me on a brief visit to Florida, where I grew up, as we drove back to our house from a yoga lecture. Her story offered a kind of purity and balance to what already was a positive experience of listening to a yogi's wise words.

As luck would have it, the timing of my pop-in home a few weeks ago was during a visit from Swami Muktananda, a man who travels nearly 9 months of the year through Europe and the U.S. before returning to India for three months of continued Kripalu yoga practice and planning.  My parents and I had just driven to a humble Hindu temple- a refurbished Tampa single-family home lined with red carpet and modest deities and paintings where the living room would have been- to listen to a lecture the Swami offered. He stood wearing a kurti dyed traditional turmeric orange at the door with a soft smile that made you feel peaceful - maybe more from his eyes than from his grin. People of Indian background were the majority (a rarity for me to experience since childhood which I've now learned to relish when it happens) though people from all races, ethnicities, and faiths were present. No exclusion. We were all there to gratefully receive his teachings.

Swami Muktananda's lecture and song hour offered insight into an inherent knowingness in all of us. How a cat can give birth to her kittens and know exactly how to care for them - no guidebook needed. Instinct is something all beings share. The swami's calling attention to this everyday knowledge allowed me to be mindful of the magic in Self. Of the profound intelligence in all Life.  The swami belted out mantras from the center of his chest, his eyes closed and happy as he swayed. It would seem that in his deeply committed offering of his own explorations of spirituality and free living through yoga and meditation were completely "self-less."  That this man, who is what I would truly call the definition of humble and pious, only gives without taking.  I thought to myself, "Man, this guy is truly yogic."

What what I now see as my half-understanding of the level of his "yogicity" or "yogic-ness" or whatever we want to call it was made more complete by a story my mother shared soon afterward as we drove through quiet, winding roads home later that night.

She told me about how on Swami Muktananda's visit the previous year, she and my dad had the privilege of driving the swami in our car to stay in one of our local friend's home for that night. On Swami Muktananda's travels for nine months, she explained, he is invited into homes to stay the night where he is given food, place to sleep, place to bathe.  When she and my dad had offered Swami Muktananda a ride to my "uncle's" (family friend's) house, he simply and graciously accepted without fuss or strangulated thank yous. When he stayed in my uncle's home and sat for dinner and breakfasts prepared for him by someone he had just met, he openly and graciously received it.

We often imagine that it is "un-yogic" to receive. That it is "un-yogic" to rely on others' for support and to allow us to stay lifted.  But what is clear from my mother's story after having viewed Swami Muktananda as only a noble giver of lectures is that the act of receiving - the art of receiving - is equally as important as giving.

We stand as individuals, yes, but we also trust and rely on one another as a collective. There is no shame in accepting when we offer in other ways.  And when we start to feel off-balance (maybe without spreadsheet evidence but more just a feeling of giving or receiving out of balance -I know you've felt it!) - to me, being yogic means simply paying attention to that.  It is a more profound and a higher level of trust than immediate 1-1 exchange of "I scratch your back, you scratch mine."  It is a trust in the Wholeness of all that is- that what we are putting out there is being received, and that what we are receiving may not look or feel exactly like what we are giving, but it is there for receiving.

We can all rest and evolve in being yogic. It is not reserved only for those who wear turmeric shirts or for those who own a purple yoga mat.  Yoga is Unity. Yoga is All. Reception is the balance to Giving. Giving is the balance to Reception.

We, Individually, make up a beautiful, intended Collective yogasphere.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Love Letter to Us.

I don’t know if this is coming from the heat outside bringing out the Shakti energy in me, or perhaps the conversations I’ve lately been having with my sister and sisterfriends, but man- I have just got to proclaim from the highest tops of the internet mountain that we, we Women, we are AWESOME.  If you were sitting next to me, too, you’d see my scrunched brow and my pursed lips as I truly get right now in this moment just how freaking awesome we are.  (Note that this is not a comment toward or against others who may not be women, nor is it to generalize that all women share the qualities that I just need to praise – well, maybe a little, ha- this is really just a celebration and yes, I have just got to say it again, baby: We Women are AWESOME).

When we’re in the midst of a real rush of changing hormones with real aches in our body, we carry backpacks and bags and boxes and sometimes even children, and we multitask to swiftly pay our bills on the phone at the same time.  We recognize the important work that must be done to better ourselves and better the world, and we do that work as mothers, as daughters, as sisters, girlfriends, wives, aunts, cousins, as students, as teachers, as healers, as business workers or owners or officers or writers or dramatists or painters or cleaners or as friends or countless other roles.  We make moves for ourselves and we make moves for others.  We gather together to get coats of Essie polish on our nails to celebrate each other’s birthday or marriage or new degree.  If someone says something hurtful to us or ignores us, we are incredible enough to think in ourselves, “Was there something in this that I could have done to make this person feel badly first?”  And then we are awesome enough to hear ourselves, pause, and say to ourselves in reflection, “I should really pay attention to when I unnecessarily impose blame or guilt on myself because I want to be as strong and good of a human and woman as I can be.”  When we have a problem with a friend, we are considerate enough to call another friend to ask her or him to listen and hear us and tell us if we did the right or wrong thing and ask them what they think could make it better.  Sometimes, we are awesome enough to call on many friends about the same matter of concern over and over again because, well, we care just that much, ha…;) We muster up the vulnerability to say sorry when we feel we were wrong.  When we feel hurt, we let the tears roll down our face or let the heat of anger build within us quietly and sometimes we cave and fall.  And we bravely allow it.  We hear its valuable communication to us. And then, after some undefined time that feels right to our individual, we see the power within the experience and use it to resolve.  We mull over words we should or should not say because it stems from a pure place of wanting to help others feel comfortable and feel safe because we respect what others may be experiencing.  We blurt out honest words at other times because we respect what others may need to hear.  We receive each others’ pain through a text message or voicemail and offer to share a glass of wine or bowls of ice cream in pajamas right away. 

We plan gatherings and avoid gatherings and we lead and we sit back and we don’t underestimate the power of a silent but comforting touch. We sometimes, in a state of overwhelming expression of emotion or in a state of overwhelming quiet, really just need a hug or space to watch Gilmore Girls or a bite to eat, and I find that simplicity masked in complexity just beautiful.  And we are not afraid to acknowledge the danger of generalizations that we feel could limit humanity’s collective view on how we as part of one large subgroup and may also operate differently and beautifully as individuals, but in doing so we also honor the golden intention behind someone’s large statements and proclamations of love :).

With you, dear women of all places and backgrounds and ways of being, dear one-day-will-grow-up-to-be-women (see brilliance of 6-year-old poet in photo I happened to pass by this morning), dear Self, 

I am in so Love with Us.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Current" A creative essay by Rina Deshpande

I'd like to give a special thanks to Nancy Sommers and all fellows and peers of T210M, HGSE for giving me inspiration, tools, and deadlines to ponder life through essay.  This essay is dedicated to my Lalla Mausi, whom I love very much.

By Rina Deshpande

            I’m not sure how or why it began – maybe we were looking to pass the time while the power was out, or maybe I just happened to ask what was behind her metal armoire doors.  One by one, my great aunt Lalla shared the meaning behind each of her many saris, so abundant in number that she admitted in giggles she may never be able to wear them all.  Her words and movements flowed like a dance: pulling out one sari from the brilliant stack of hundreds, narrating the story as she unfolded and revealed its unique pattern, then refolding and replacing it before moving onto the next.  Like I was being walked through an album of textiles and colors.  Thin silks. Thick silks.  Rayons.  Cottons. Polyesters.  Peacock blues.  Hot pinks. Forest greens. Mustard yellows. Chocolate browns.  Light golds. Dark golds.  Daisy prints.  Paisleys. Solids.  Stripes.  Stars.  Each sari was a gift.  Each sari, an unchanging memory from her life.
            I can’t help but wonder if my great aunt made these stories up, but the details of each sari giver, occasion, time of day, and location all wove together so seamlessly for yards and yards that it’s quite possible every thread she said was true.  Perhaps, to her, it was not accuracy that mattered.
            I am thinking of her now after just hanging up with my unnervingly calm mother, wondering why I did not call my Lalla Mausi when my mind had told me to. 

            Two years ago, I am sitting on the edge of my great aunt’s cot like I’ve done on every visit to her Bangalore bungalow for the last thirty years.  Un-poised and relaxed in my Gap jeans and t-shirt, my legs dangle off of the wire frame like a teenager’s.  Herds of cars honk and packs of stray dogs bark on the dusty road outside.  The hollow sound of the ticking clock echoes on the bare walls – the “current” has stopped as it frequently does with no warning.  We patiently wait around for the electric buzz to return and revive the tube lights.
            Every five to seven years that I have visited my great aunt Lalitha - my Lalla Mausi - I’ve seen snapshots of a rapidly changing India.  Where her cement bungalow once rested quietly on a hill of red earth and bowing trees, now swarm bustling students to IT school and Tata cars ramming horns to fight for parking.   The population in the city of Bangalore has tripled from 3 million in 1982 to nearly 9 million people in 2013.  Lalla’s peach and red bungalow once seemed so tall and rooted on that dirt hill.  Over time, it has shrunken away from the main road, nearly forgotten in all of the change. 

            For now, we are inside of her home.  And on the inside, Lalla’s bungalow feels almost exactly the same.  Red tinted cement floors cool my bare feet in the summer heat.  Two humble ground level bedrooms each offer a cozy cot and armoire. Framed photos of my mother, sister, father and me from Disney World 1988 to high school and college graduations line the old wooden shelves.  I wince at the sight my bushy eyebrows in my blue graduation cap and gown.  Perhaps getting older comes with some benefits, I laugh to myself, like learning to have your eyebrows threaded.  Multiple horns bleep outside the window like angry sheep, sending the dogs into a fit.
            “Seems like it is even more chaotic out there than last time,” I am surprised by the grown-up nature of my own comment.
            “Mm,” my great aunt affirms with a glum nod from side to side.  “Happening so fast, no?  What to do?” she laments, lifting her hands and eyes toward the sky.  I share her frown. She immediately looks to console my concern like a grandmother to her grandchild, gently grasping her wrinkled brown fingers under my chin and smiling.  I close my eyes and hold onto the feeling of her cradle. 
            I do not want to forget her.  I do not want to be forgotten.

            My eyes magnetize to the emerald green silk with a hot pink band nestled in the colorful collection of her armoire.  I ask for her to please, pretty please pull that one out next.  We are two hours without power, and she has gone through nearly twenty saris. I am enjoying her performance and too comfortable squeezing my adult bottom into my booster seat in the audience.  Lalla Mausi giggles at my invitation for encore, and brimming with memories she reaches for the sari of my choice and starts to unfold. 
            “Ah, this was gifted to me by Shreshta at her daughter’s engagement in Delhi in May 1993 – do you recollect meeting Shreshta, Rina?  Vahini’s sister’s husband’s cousin.  You don’t remember?”  I smirk, having no idea to whom she refers.  I let her continue.  Right now there is no current.  Right now, we are right here.
            With every name she assigns to each sari, she weaves her loom aloud.  Saris from neighbors, casual acquaintances, brides and grooms, best friends, sisters, brothers, and one collectively from my mother, father, sister, and me.  I see a softness and security in her eyes as she narrates the latter. 
            “You only selected this sari for me,” she laughs as I ask who gave it to her.  “You were small.”  I admit that I do not remember, but I joke that I have pretty good taste.  Each strand in the nine yards of burgundy dyed silk is as sturdy and thick as wire.  As she opens the pallu tail end that drapes over the shoulder, she reveals an intricate pattern of elephants woven from what looks like pure golden thread.  I tell her I like this sari the best.  She touches my cheek and says that it is her favorite, too.

            Twenty-five years prior, I would draw my great aunt’s portrait on a wrinkled notebook page with markers: black braid, wire spectacles, sari pallu draped over her shoulder, and red bindi on her wide-ruled forehead.  I would present my wobbly artwork to her, and she would immediately hang it up on her metal armoire.  On this day - twenty-five years later - as we close the armoire doors to her sari album, I chuckle to see the portrait still remains displayed under the same round magnet.  To me, she still looks just the same.  I touch the dimming paper and try hard to remember my little hands gripping the marker in artist’s concentration.  My memory of myself as a child is dimmer than before.  Perhaps my Lalla Mausi still sees it clearly.  Perhaps it is through one another that we remain unchanging.
            The sound of buzzing zips through the walls of the room.   The lights flicker back on.  
            “Current,” she says. 

            The lights in my Cambridge apartment seem to buzz louder than usual.  I pick up my cell phone and dial the 800 number my mother gave me, entering India country code, Karnataka state code, and phone number for my Lalla’s Mausi’s room at the hospital.  She picks up.
            For this moment, the current is paused.