thoughts: still waiting with joy
"Relax your arm. Relax your arm. Relax your arm."
Each time the nurse becomes more adamant. My gaze stays down as she holds the first needle inches away from my apparently tense arm. I think I've relaxed it as much as I can, but there's always more room to let go.
I hear her words again against loud Bollywood-style on-hold music, as I wait on the phone with the visa office and then a third-party. Relax. But I can't. Or I make the choice not to.
On Monday I taught my last yoga class. When I come back in 6-or-so months that might seem like no big deal, but in the moment it felt like everything. And all day I couldn't relax. I held so tightly onto wanting everything to be perfect.
Several weeks ago one of my friends told me he had a gift for me. He explained that he had made it at one of those pottery-painting places, and I could see the excitement in his eyes over its beauty.
Last week when I saw him, his expression had changed. He told me it had come out looking a little differently than he had planned. As he handed me a bag with tissue paper carefully wrapped around the ceramic piece, he said that before it was fired in the kiln everyone had remarked on how perfectly it was going to turn out.
With a little trepidation and a nervous smile, he said, "But..."
As I pulled this Buddha out of the bag, I burst into laughter. The laughter was contagious, and soon others were admiring this piece of art. Tears rolled down my face as we all tried to come up with what to call this very special Buddha.
I thanked my friend and told him I wouldn't want this piece to look any other way.
Over this past week I have cried many desperate, stress-filled tears over the ordeal of STILL waiting for my visa. And when I've needed a laugh? I glance across the room and see this Buddha.
Because RELAX YOUR ARM. Let go.
That shot is going right into the muscle whether you tense up or not. The third-party visa servicer is giving me the same news regardless of how many times I have to repeat myself between sobs. My friend could have spent more time painting, and the heat of the kiln might still have transformed his work in an unexpected way.
In Sanskrit the word for heat is tapas, but it is also defined as discipline and the use of heat or fire or fierceness in your practice to yield transformation. Some days you show up on your mat and are transformed into holding a handstand, and some days you are transformed into crying in child's pose. Typically the level of change goes much deeper than what the pose looks like from the outside. And the challenge is to learn from the transformation, rather than dictating how you wanted it to turn out. Can you learn just as much from falling on your face as you do from staying in the pose?
Pending the arrival of my visa in the next 72 hours, in December I'll be practicing yoga at an institute established by the late Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, which is now run by his daughter and grandson. He created Ashtanga Yoga, which is the yoga system that most modern athletic/power forms of yoga are based on. He was well known for saying:
"Practice, and all is coming."
For now this Buddha is going into storage, but it will live (amongst other Buddha's, mala beads, and crystals) next to my mat when I have a home yoga space again because this is the practice. Show up, do your work, and care deeply. But let go.
music: november playlist
thoughts: backpacks and umbrellas
Today I bought a backpack. I'm not by any stretch of the imagination a backpacker. But today I bought a backpack to use for 4-6 months in India, which I guess qualifies me as a backpacker. Or so that's what Andy at REI told me. When I looked bewildered at the sight of my new pack (as they call it), he reassured me, "In two months, you'll know this thing inside and out." Here's hoping.
When I arrived at REI I made a beeline for the backpacks, quickly got freaked out, and headed to the clothing section instead. Eventually I got up the nerve to ask someone for help with the backpacks, and I half expected the salesclerk to take one look at me and laugh or fear for my survival. But Andy simply grabbed two packs from the wall and started talking about the position of the bag on the iliac crest of the hip. I told him that I'm a yoga teacher, and I can at least follow along when it comes to anatomy.
He filled the backpacks with pillows and weights to mimic the load I'll be carrying and then taught me how to pick the bag up off the ground, position it on my knee, and swing it over one shoulder to put it on. I followed along, and much to my surprise I didn't fall over. After walking around the store and up and down many flights of stairs, he asked me how it felt.
"Good. I think. But I don't know how it's supposed to feel. Are you a backpacker?"
He looked me dead in the eye and said, "Backpacking is my sport."
Several months ago I bought a one-way ticket to Barcelona, where I'll meet my family over Thanksgiving, followed by a one-way ticket from Florence to Bangalore. I spent hours scouring various websites for the best deals on airfare, but in retrospect that was all fun and games.
Now I sit with two-dozen Internet browser windows open, and I research travel insurance and travel safes and underwear that you can keep your passport and credit cards zipped into. I learn about vaccines and Japanese encephalitis. I read other yogis' packing lists, and my favorite suggestion is:
"Bring 5 yoga outfits you don't like. In fact, don't bring anything you like to India."
For several weeks I've been trying to secure my Indian visa, and a couple nights ago I was on the phone with someone in India again. I called, as usual, around midnight in LA to account for the 13.5-hour time difference and the operating hours of the institute where I'm studying. This time I spoke to three different people, and the last one assured me that I would receive an email with a photocopy of the document I need by today. I'm acutely aware of when the day ends in India, and it ended with no email.
When I arrived at the studio to teach a class today, another teacher asked me how I was doing. I made the mistake of telling her the truth, rather than just saying well. By the time my students started arriving I was in tears. Each student offered such kind and thoughtful words and solutions, but it only made me cry more.
Fear got the best of me. Waiting on a visa and looking at slash-proof locks isn't as pretty as buying plane tickets. But fear is often just discomfort.
There's this thing that happens in yoga postures. The moment of resistance is where the pose actually begins. And often the difference between comfortable and uncomfortable has nothing to do with the pose and has everything to do with you. How you breathe, think, and react.
One of my teachers often loudly and assertively guides her students through incredibly difficult postures and transitions, but she ends her directions by saying, "with joy."
And so it is with this. I'll breathe and keep calling India and go to a travel clinic and make some purchases on Amazon with joy. Eventually the documents will arrive and I'll be vaccinated and my pack will be organized with everything I need.
The teacher who I cried to sent me a message later that said:
"Whenever I am full of doubt my mom tells me the story of a village that didn't have rain for the longest time and so one day they gathered everyone and decided to pray for rain. Among the crowd a little boy stood with his umbrella. He believed so much that the moment they ask for rain it will come, that he brought his umbrella with him. So just grab that umbrella and trust that what you ask for will happen, and whatever happens is only the very best for you. I have no doubt everything will fall into place."
Instead of an umbrella, I have a backpack. Eventually my pack and I will be in India. For now I'll wait, with joy, for my visa.