Finding Contentment in the Chaos

India can be an extremely frustrating place. It's hot. It's really chaotic. Indians swarm you to offer you rides in their rickshaw, necklaces, directional advice, etc. It's loud as can be—horns, music, traffic. It's dirty.

Last year, everything about being in India was novel for me. I drank it all in. I enjoyed every experience, even those that were loud, chaotic and dirty. I was just so happy to be here that I even found joy in the painful and frustrating times. This year, things feel different. I feel annoyed by Indians and chaos. I can't help it. I don't want to be annoyed. I want to live in the present and appreciate the fact that I'm in INDIA for crying out loud!! But something keeps rising up in me. And it doesn't feel like joy. It feels like suffering.

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It feels a lot like when I was a teenager. I don't know what you were like when you were teen-aged, but I was angry. All the time. Anything and everything could upset me. And did. And not only was I angry, I was anxious to be out of whatever situation I was currently in. I believe I could characterize it as a constant state of non-contentment. Unless something was a completely novel situation, I was instantly bored and looking to move on.

This approach to life has (luckily) abated with time. I think part of it is maturing and recognizing that not every situation has to be completely enriching and fabulous. And (I would like to think) that most of my new life approach is due to my work on the mat/cushion. I've slowed down. I've learned to appreciate small details and things that we generally perceive as "mundane." 

So much sweetness in the simplicity

So much sweetness in the simplicity

I think a lot of this appreciation has developed out of my asana practice. Coming to the mat daily and doing the same poses hundreds and then thousands of times can really put into perspective one's ability to find something new in a repeat situation. And no matter how many times I do trikonasana, I can still find some new sensation and some amount of joy to just "be in it." This is how I should approach every repeat situation. What about this can I find to appreciate? Even if my brain/body is telling me not to feel content?

So, this second trip to India has been one of lesson learning for me. It's fascinating to watch myself move through this incredible country for a second time. To see my reaction to India when it's no longer novel for me. It's amusing to be present with my anger, however silly it seems. It's great for me to have the insight to even realize that I'm experiencing non-contentment and then see what I can do about it.

There is nothing like taking yourself out of your comfort zone to put your work to the test. Looks like I better keep on getting back on the mat/cushion upon my return.

Expectations

We are disappointed. Often.
I think we can narrow the cause of our disappointment down to two things:

1. Things change. People die, money goes away, new loud neighbors move in. We don't like things to change, because we really like the way things are. Even if we're miserable, we'd rather maintain the status quo than have things change.

2. We have a lot of expectations for how we want things to turn out. And then, on top of our fantasy idea about the way things should be, we are attached to the outcomes we created in our minds. How silly is that?

Think of the last time that you had an expectation about something and it didn't turn out the way you had hoped or...expected.
Mine was today. I planned to take an amazing bike ride (my first of the season) 7 miles to teach yoga in 80 degree heat. I expected that it would be awesome, like a Coca-Cola commercial. Me all sexy and tan with a big smile and some awesome song in the background. Truth is, I got my ass handed to me. Which was just another way that things could turn out, and did turn out.

Think about the last time you didn't have expectations. What happened?

For me it was going to India. I had no idea what I should expect. I had some relative notions about possible experiences (lots of beggars, lots of trash, foreign language, big cities) but no clear fantasy projection about what I wanted to gain. I didn't know if my program would be any good, if Indians would be nice, if I would be afraid while I was there. And it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.

I wasn't afraid the whole time.

I'm not saying this is always the case, but setting yourself up for each and every situation with a grand expectation is a great way to disappoint yourself. Often.
Instead of constantly comparing the way things are to the way you would like things to be, can you instead appreciate things for what they are?


Here's a meditation to help with releasing your attachments and expectations.
Bring your awareness to the crown of your head. Rest attentively there keeping your body relaxed and your breath steady. With each breath, increase your point of awareness at the crown of the head and increase the vibrancy of that feeling. (2 minutes)
Now begin to draw your breath from the crown of your head through the middle of your brain to your heart center on an inhale. Exhale stay present in the heart center. Inhale back up from your heart center, through the middle of the brain to the crown of the head. Exhale up and out of the crown of the head. With each continuing breath, increase the awareness and vibrancy of the points at the crown center and the heart center. (3-4 minutes)
Now, maintaining that same pattern of breath, begin to draw in your goals and desires from the universe from the crown through the middle of your brain to your heart. Exhale let your desires rest in the heart. Inhale moving from the heart to the crown, drawing upward your expectations and any attachment you have to the outcome of your goals and desires. Exhale release them into the universe through the crown of your head. (3-4 minutes)

Try it out. But...try not to have any expectations around it. Let it unfold naturally and be open to the possibilities that it presents.

India Part 5 or Today I Met a Rishi

It's funny, when I'm at home and studying or talking philosophy with my students I am totally on board with the ideas of kundalini energy, siddhis (magical powers), the mysticism of tantra, and the idea that meditating in a cave for 15 years would lead to something important. But suddenly when I get to India and have the opportunity to meet a holy man (a real life holy man!) who is involved in all of those thing, I get all skeptical and wonder if he's messing with me.
Huh?

I met a rishi. He meditated in a holy cave for 15 years to raise his kundalini energy. Now he lives in the hills in Central Kerala in India and meditates except for when he's accepting visitors for whom he prophesies and answers pertinent questions they might have about their dharma. He was slight and short and had a giant (giant!) dreadlock which he wrapped around his head like a turban. His home was about 10 X 10 feet, completely full of murtis and photos of Shiva and Parvati, and filled with thick, pungent incense.

When we came in he greeted us warmly and we were invited to sit next to him. Our guide told him a couple of things about us and then he lit a stick of incense and began to meditate.
When he began to speak, he addressed Veronika first. He told her that she has a business mind, that she already has some power in her third eye and that if she starts her own business, it will take a couple of years, but she'll be very successful.
Veronika has been taking about opening up her own tea house for about 6 months now. No joke. What he told her was succinct and to the point. The whole thing took a couple of moments. Then he came to me.

He was told that I am a yoga teacher in the USA.
This is what the rishi told me:

What you are doing now is perfect. (as in, you have found your dharma, stay put) Continue to teach classes and teach your students philosophy and meditation. You were born with a philosophical mind. You are a very calm person and when you talk to people you have the ability to transmit that calm to them.

The rishi asked if I was married. I said no.
He meditated for a few more moments....I started to get nervous.
Next he said:

If you choose not to get married and practice brahmacarya you could be known to the world.
(admittedly this made me nervous, so I asked him if I could get married.)
Yes, you can get married, but if you want to have followers and become someone who is known, you should choose not to get married.

To increase your philosophical abilities, there are several practices that you can do.
In front of you, place two oil lamps or candles, a glass of water and some fruit. For fifteen minutes meditate on Om Namah Shivaya. Drink the water and eat the fruit.
Before you go to bed each night, hold a glass of water in your hands. Meditate on Om for five minutes, drink the water and go to sleep.

You can speak to your soul. Sit eight feet away from a mirror and make a point on the mirror between your eyebrows. Stare into that spot for fifteen to twenty minutes and you will soon be able to talk with your own soul.

Then the rishi asked if I owned my own business. I responded 'no' and he meditated a bit more. Then:

In a year you will have the opportunity to own your own small business in yoga. If you choose to do so, you can be successful.

We were then allowed to ask a few questions and were ushered out. We were allowed to take a photo.


And that is what happened when I met a rishi.....

India Part 4 or No Choice but the Present

You know how when you start practicing quieting your mind and suddenly you notice that you are very very rarely quieting your mind? You should maybe try moving to India.
The level of noise and stimulation necessitates an extreme level of attention to the present moment.

Thinking that I might sit and enjoying a few quiet moment on the bus the other day, I proceeded to soften my breath and begin to turn inward and !! honk! mere seconds (moments?) later I am awoken from my reverie. Joke's on me though. I can't be mad or annoyed about the noise. I was supposed to be meditating and quiet my mind, but it was a distraction that brought me back to the present.

The scene of the blog.


Thank you India for this humbling reminder. The present is now and I am fully here.

India Part 3 or Adventureland

Everything is India is an adventure. Truly everything. You are like "okay, now I'm going to walk across the street" so then you think, "alright, so, I have to avoid these cars, and they are definitely driving on different sides of the road then I'm used to, and oh wait! look out for those bikes, and where is that honking coming from and did I just step in shit?" and then somehow with some seriously deep breathing and incredible eye on the present situation you make it across the street. And then a new adventure starts.

Taking the train in India is the mother of all adventures. The equivalent of this adventure in the context of yoga would be something like...the teacher comes in and says, "okay, today we are going to start with one- handed handstand, and from there we'll be doing drop backs, then tick-tocks, and then we are going to do kapalabhati breath for 25 minutes in headstand and then everyone is going to stand as close together as possibly and we'll turn the heat up to 150 degrees and meditate on the word Om.

Yep.

So, we took the train from Madurai to Kanyakumari and it was the most incredible adventure.

For one, we are unfathomably interesting to Indians. So, we're sitting in the train station minding our own business and the next thing you know 50 Indians are talking to us in Tamil and telling us everything they know about the US (John F. Kennedy, Niagara Falls) and inviting us to their house for dinner. Then when the train comes, (we had already decided to ride in the ladies carriage) all the ladies run full speed to the door and start handing their bags in through the windows. There are no such things as lines in India, you just cram into a huddle and try to push your way to the front. And damn if those 14 year old Indians girls aren't strong as hell.
So then once you finally cram yourself on, and I mean cram, and you have to do so really fast or the train will most likely leave, you find yourself next to the bathroom (um) and again in a situation with a lot of cramming. And all the Indians are looking at you and still talking to you in Tamil and Indian grandmas are yelling at you because your bag came close to their face and Veronika's 3/4 length pants show her knees when she sits on the floor, which is utterly unthinkable.


In the middle of this complete pandemonium I had to step back and take a look. It was so wonderful. Here was this complete chaos, a big sweaty mess of ladies and babies all speaking (shouting) at once but everyone was smiling at us. And we were smiling at them. And several got up and insisted upon giving their seats to us. And we took pictures of the babies and watched to Indian countryside whizz by.
I was so pleased. It would have been a breeze for us to book a nice cool bus with a seat and a smooth ride, but we took the adventuresome path. And it turned out to be the most culturally relevant thing that we'd done so far. I have always been pretty good at "taking the leap" and trying adventurous things, but this was one of the best in my life.
With an open mind and heart I move bravely through the Indian lands.

India Part 1 or Holy Mother (of chaos)

Um. India.
Let's start by saying that I'm currently in the "Detroit" of India. So whatever images that conjures up for you are probably pretty damn similar to reality. People, buses, bicycles, motorbikes, and of course no Indian road would be complete without tons and tons of rickshaws. Which are the focus of this post...

Yesterday we took a rickshaw or "tuktuk" as they're lovingly called from Injambakkam where we are staying, to Chennai. The drive is pretty far because we're living about 30 kilometers south. Yes, I said kilometers...no, I don't totally know how that translates into miles-something like two k's per mile?
The point being that it was far and heavily trafficked and we were riding in an oversized covered trike. Next to buses. And cars. I think that our driver was the most adventuresome tuktuk master in all the land literally weaving in and out of impossibly small spaces for over an hour. I am sure this is what everyone says...in fact, I know this is what everyone says. "My driver was the craziest, etc, etc. But seriously.
This guy.


Me, I was utterly panicked for the first, oh hour or so. I was gripping the seat, I was gripping Veronika, I was gripping for dear life. But finally (after a seriously tense hour) two things occurred to me.
The first was that I probably wasn't going to die (most importantly) and the second was the utter sense of peace with which this guy managed the incredible stimulus around him. The whole situation reminded me of when you first start yoga and you're pretty sure that you might die and there are so many things going on and you're just gripping all of your muscles for dear life, but pretty soon (most likely in savasana) you recognize the incredible possibility for peace which arises out of your practice.


In the tuktuk, after I remembered that I have breath, and then remembered that I have breath awareness, I began to be able to ease up on the intensity of my gripping. And bit by bit I opened up this breath awareness to a greater awareness of what was actually happening. Better said I opened up to a different possible reality.
And then finally I allowed our driver's sense if peace to eventually become my own sense of peace, things got a lot more enjoyable. So that's my lesson from Chennai; finding serenity amid the beautiful commotion. Accepting this new flow of life to which I am being exposed and learning to find the underlying possibility of peace.