A YOGINI'S JOURNEY TOWARD A TRUE MASTER: Marion Mugs McConnell
"May life go to immortal life, and the body go to ashes. OM. O my soul, remember past strivings, remember! O my soul, remember past strivings, remember!”
In her book, Letters from the Yoga Masters, Marion includes this prayer from the Isha Upanishad, which reminds us that “the yoga Masters claim that if you are drawn to yoga in this life, it is likely that the seeds of knowledge were planted in a past life”. These excerpts are from the first three chapters of Marion’s book which were a privilege for me to read as they didn’t make it off the editorial chopping block. These three chapters were such a soulful reflection of her journey to finding her Guru Dr. Hari Dickman.
Through her writings, Marion (known as Mugs) has literally saved a lineage of yoga which otherwise would have been lost to history; Hari was highly respected in India, but he was virtually unknown in the West. “The teachings that Hari imparted upon me then,” says Marion, “have been deepening in their meaning over the years and I realize they are passed down from many of the great yoga Masters we only hear about today. This incredible unfolding in my life humbles me. As the copies of my letters fade I am driven to share at least some of this direct and personal wisdom with others so it continues to be passed on.” So, you see, as was their relationship, so too the book seems to have been destined, to reach the hearts of those who find it.
Marion intuitively found her path to yoga, at a very young age. Whether she had the words for what she was following didn’t matter; she had the innate ability to respect the strong call of her Being. As written by Marion, ”rarely do we clearly perceive what the true result of a desire will look like, but it becomes clearer as the events unfold. Somewhere deeply planted within my being was the seed of desire to become a yogini. Even without knowing what a yogini was the seed was there within me, and as my life unfolded the pathway opened up for me to follow. Was this coincidence, or wisdom from a past life setting the stage for this one?” Her fated relationship with her teacher Dr. Hari Dickman tells the story.
Marion’s intimate relationship with yoga began as a search which seemed simple enough, arising as a pursuit for ballet lessons, “for as far back as I can remember I wanted to practice ballet…I begged my mother to let me take ballet lessons, but the teacher would not let anyone in class until they were five years old. I pleaded and begged for what seemed an eternity, until finally the teacher let me in when I was four.” Then for the next ten years she “danced continuously in the living room, in the yard, and on stage, performing for anyone and no one.”
By the 1970’s, in her mid-teens, Marion’s ballet interest had waned…her new “quest” was meditation. She felt this pull to meditate came “from the deep inner peace I found when I danced…moving from leaping and flying through the air to complete stillness.” Surprisingly, her neighbor practiced meditation….but, to Marion’s disappointment, she would need to wait for a teacher who could initiate her…but, what she could do was begin yoga with her! “I was a little disappointed with her offer as this was not the goal I had in mind. I had no idea what this yoga was, but decided I may as well look into it in case it might be a suitable substitution until I could learn how to meditate.“ At age 19, Marion was finally able to attend a presentation on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s system of Transcendental Meditation, eventually leading her to receive her mantra.
At last! In her 20’s, and in Australia, yoga was beginning to take shape as a formed practice in her life! I don’t know that Marion sees it that way, but I feel my excitement about her reaching this stage of her life comes from my anticipation of her soon to meet Hari (though in reality of her life process, she still had a ways to go). Step forward a few years, and through a round about way, via links in Australia, Mugs came in touch with a woman in the UK who recommended a Dr. Hari Dickman as someone who might be willing to teach her! (perhaps this is where my “at last” should be inserted). “I had been practicing yoga constantly for over four years and meditating for nearly two. I needed direction. I felt inspired, but wanted guidance. I did not know where to take my yoga practice, although a deep yearning for more kept burning inside me. I had no idea of the possibilities that lay before me; I just knew I needed to go “there,” wherever “there” was. I immediately wrote to Dr. Dikmanis”…the rest is history so to say.
She wrote to Hari without knowing what she wanted to ask him (I love this because this is something I would do)…he replied letting her know to keep in touch, but that she wasn’t quite ready as a student yet…she needed a greater foundation or framework for him to work with. So, she studied classical Hatha in the Bahamas for a few months (at his suggestion) and later they got to work together on her studies, in San Francisco. It was Marion’s determination which fulfilled that destined bond of their work together. “My knowledge of yoga had expanded dramatically over the past months (at the ashram), so we now conversed on a much deeper level using completely different terminology. All this time I had wanted to study with Hari, but I was not ready. I had no foundation, no terminology or basis of knowledge in yoga. How could Hari teach me? This was why he sent me to Swami Vishnudevananda—to get the basics so he could impart upon me the deeper teachings. The guru can only give to the student what she is able to receive, and if the student cannot even speak the language, then that must be learned first.” I also see Hari’s stillness (as he was living in one place at this stage of life) was as much about finding Mugs as was her movement to find him…that ever infused connection of movement and stillness in yoga.
Written from such immense respect in memory of Dr. Dickman, Mugs told me that she feels it was her Dharma to share his work. This reverence for a teacher, and the potential brought to a student, is an initiation which I don’t know that we get to experience anymore as we mass produce yoga teachers.
Her book is such a deep hearted reflection of a traditional student/teacher relationship which was once considered the only way in yoga, but is now rapidly on the decline. Mugs dove deeply into the research of this book (some of which was stolen at one point, only by grace did she receive copies of the letters again), finding teachers past and present within Dr. Dickman’s varied yogic lineage. The book is intimate in its sharing of the actual words of true Yoga Masters, containing letters which were sent to Hari (who lived in the US) from Indian teachers. This book is a truly unique opportunity to read. And an increasingly rare insight into yoga.
Hari said, “Hatha Yoga leads us to Raja Yoga…his guidance helped me to not feel guilty when I wasn’t doing asana every day, but to appreciate the fact that I was drawn from the outer limbs toward the inner limbs of yoga.”
Any student would be privileged to learn from Marion, as she is such a rare gem! SOYA, her yoga school located in the stunning reaches of British Columbia’s Okanagan region, offers RYS registered teacher trainings at the 200 and 300 hour levels, equalling a 500 hour certification. Marion is “completely dedicated to yoga, like someone who devotes their life to anything, it’s completely inseparable from how she thinks, acts, eats, it encompasses her entire Being. It’s the only thread of consistency through her entire life as it’s the root of all her actions and thinking…it’s her soul’s journey.”
As yoga is often limited to Asana in the west, Mugs has regularly been approached by students who ask, “How often do you do yoga?—meaning how often am I on my mat doing asana. The truth is, I do yoga pretty much all day every day; I practice all the aspects of yoga, from truthfulness to asana to meditation and chanting, to recognizing those delicious moments of samadhi.”
As in any yoga practice, writing the book brought an array of feelings, but then she would remember “I’m doing this for Hari”. Writing in service to him instilled her confidence. She said that the “finished product of the book and the way it all came together, came through the spiritual journey of it”.
“In heart, mind, and consciousness I want to be a loving person. I was so well treated by Hari, and he was so loving to me.”…Marion
Marion Mugs McConnell is a co-founder and creator of the South Okanagan Yoga Academy and their yoga teacher training programs that have met international standards for over 20 years. You can reach her at www.soyayoga.com
i The Upanishads, Commentary by Juan Mascaro, London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1965, p. 50.