He was lying on the busy sidewalk, along the wall of a shop which stood across the street from the main market in Mapusa, India. He was on his side, using his arm as a pillow…an old man, paper thin, legs covered in flies which where nestling into the open wounds on his legs. I slowed to one of those lucid stops when you see a Being whose heart shattering situation stands right in front of you, but you don’t want them to feel like you’re staring at them. As the crowds swept past my field of vision, and between me and him, I wondered what to do.
I went to a street vendour and bought a few samosa, some pakora and a bottle of water, then I went into the pharmacy to buy a bar of soap. I brought these to the man, thinking maybe he could use the soap to wash his legs at some point in time, if he could gather the strength to do it. As I lay the packages beside him, his foggy eyes moved slowly, giving me a distant, sideways glance. I carried on with my errands, later returning to my scooter the way I had come. The man had eaten the food I had left, but was now eating the bar of soap as well. I stopped (and I stop again now as I write this), my heart and guts fell to the ground, tears welled in my eyes, what had I done? This man was literally dying in the midst of a crowd, and I had given him a bar of soap to eat. I cried (literally cried) as I went about my next two days following…I just couldn’t stop. When I told two Indian friends my story, each shared their Indian perception…they offered a perspective that my Western mind wouldn’t have been able to conjure up on its own.
The point of sharing this story is, that I have traveled to India a number of times now (each being a stretch of a few months), and every time I go, the journey teaches me something utterly mind bending. Will I ever feel I’ve learned about Indian culture? I have no idea. But my point is, we can’t know an experience like this until we are in it, living it, and hopefully, open to receive what Life is giving us in such moments…it’s these irreplaceable marks in time that mature us, that further engrain compassion, and make us wiser.
Many foreigners travel to India, taking their body but leaving their Souls at home. They’ve “been there” or “learned yoga” there…many say they have lived there for years…but often keep themselves protected by the walls of a foreign owned retreat center, interacting for the most part, with other foreigners who visit their center, and befriending other expats who live in the region…thinking they know Indian culture simply because they employ Indians.
I’ve been asked by a number of people these past months, what I would recommend or advise about traveling India. And I’ve come to say that an authentic journey in India is immensely personal, it’s not a check list of sites seen, yoga learned, gurus heard, ashrams to boast about…it’s a personal exploration which begins at home…finding your own way and your own experience…this is what I did, no one prepared me…and it’s the most Soulful calling to India.
This in itself is Yoga. Finding yourself in the complete unknown is the real practice of Yoga.
I was inspired to write about this because of a post on social media. The woman wrote that two weeks of her yoga teacher training were “done”. Please, never think that you’re “done”. Please know that an authentic yogic path will never be “done”…it bleeds into all of life….nourishing and washing away.
Just as a journey through India, a Yoga teacher training is not an item to mark off your checklist. Please know dear yoga students, the yogic training lasts a lifetime….it never stops…you will always be a student of yoga. The decision to commit to a teacher training should be recognized as an initiation into a lifelong commitment of respect for self, for others, for all that is….and we disrespect this practice and back out of the commitment, when we view our YTT as a checklist item, just something to do and then walk beyond. We’re far more blessed if we honour our commitment than if we choose to back out of it…where we choose instead greater interest in our chipped nail polish, while chewing on a bubble of gum, pondering a fresh colour, saying “ya I’m a yoga teacher now”. Feel the inspiration to step on that road, but get those feet on the ground and keep walking.
Yoga teachers benefit their students more when they’re willing to admit it’s still a practice for them. The rocks on that road are more frequently stones and boulders, than pebbles….and that road isn’t paved and smooth, with a patent all weather safety film atop it. No, this is a dirt road and it’s messy…because it’s Life, it’s You, it’s all of us. Some places are firm where you wish it were soft, and sometimes so sinkingly soft you’re trudging to break free.
But, when you see those breaks in the clouds up ahead, beaming the freshest of crisp sunlight, stand tall and love them. Look at that sky with eyes closed and smiling reverence…breath it in, absorb it, let it refresh you. With gratitude learn from even the beautiful moments, because you know the grey mist of rain will come again. It will torrent again.
Do you have the yogic skills to continue walking, to continue listening to what that road whispers to you? Those skills that teach you that amidst your own private burdens, to still feel deeply and compassionately for all Beings. Looking back only if it’s to be grateful for what it has taught you.
*image by james jordan