Sometimes it’s just hard. I have wanted to come study at the Jois institute for 10 years. For many of those years it seemed like something only free people could do and I didn’t feel like one of them. I had a “career” to build and minimal time off. At times I was so jealous of fellow yogis that got to come to Mysore that I couldn’t muster up the grace to sit and listen to their accounts of their time here.
Finally, I’m here and what happens? I get voraciously ill. I got in and had 1 mysore practice in Saraswati’s shala. Even though I was still a bit jet lagged (as I age I find it takes a minimum of 2 days to get my land legs back after long-haul travel), the energy in the room was uplifting and Saraswati and Sharmila’s (her daughter) presence palpable – welcoming, supportive and strong. I got adjusted by them both. I got through primary series with ease and they didn’t stop me, so that felt validating (it doesn’t matter who you are, your first time with them, you do primary and you may be stopped at whatever pose they see as your limit). It’s not an ego thing, I would have gracefully stopped if they saw the need, but after years of work and dedication, it just felt nice to know I was coming along OK.
Then, the next day was a Hindu holiday, which Saraswati observes, so we had the day off. That night, I was awakened from sleep with the immediate need to go from both ends — it was rough. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. My whole body ached and I could hardly move. I lay in bed thinking, “is this it? Did I finally get here only to be struck down by the bugs I worked to prevent in my “career”?”. Melodramatic a bit, eh?
The next day my wonderful friend Maggie rushed over as soon as she heard. She took such good care of me, made me drink and eat – even though it felt like glass and lava. Then she said, “I think we better take you to the hospital.” Oddly it sounded like the best suggestion I’d ever heard. So, she called an Uber (yes, they have Uber here!) and took me in comfort to this very nice hospital where they took me in immediately and put me on an IV. The doctor came in, examined me and said “You’ve got food poisoning. This IV will help ease your headache because you’re dehydrated and I’ll put you on antibiotics to clear you up. If that doesn’t work, come back, right away”.
So, the first day I was the ideal patient, took my meds, drank my electrolytes, rested all day. Second day I felt much better and went to practice. After all, that what I’m here for – it was so hard to be missing it. I was shaky and weak, but I had a decent practice – it was led and Saraswati’s led is wonderful. When she led the opening prayer, right when she hit “samsara halahala”, my throat caught and tears fell from my eyes. The brevity of the moment, being here in this place that has become legend to me, with this 77 year-old beautiful glowing teacher who spends 6+ hours every morning offering her knowledge and love to gaggles of students from all over the world, left me speechless – for a moment.
I think a big part of why I am here to study with her now, and why I spent that extra time in Nepal with the nuns of Nagi Gompa, was because there’s an evolution in my being (I hope) that is shifting toward a greater appreciation for empathy, love for all beings – compassion. They’re reminding me what it feels like to be cared for, to be nurtured — to be 6 years old and siting in my Grandma Betty’s lap again — one of the best feelings ever.
Nearly 2 years ago I got the Tibetan prayer – Om mani padme hum – tattooed on my right forearm. Inspired by a sighting of the mantra painted large on a rock at the foot of Namo Buddha Monastery in Nepal in 2010 – my first trip there. Since that time the mantra has grown in importance to me and it felt right to etch it permanently for me to see many time throughout each day. As my Buddha Dharma teacher, Tokpa Tulku, said to me just weeks ago: the “Om” reminds us of our goal – to develop the body, speech and mind of a Buddha; the “mani” represents our devotion to cultivation of compassion; the “padme” to our dedication to development of wisdom; and the “hum” to emphasize that it’s the balance of the two that gets us to our goal. I’m not very good at remembering that I also need to apply the mani and padme toward myself. I think that these amazing women Saraswati, Ani Gyantara, and Ani Sonam have been placed on my path at this time to remind me.
Plus, the last thing Tokpa Tulku said to me as we parted ways on December 6th, was “Be gentle with yourself.” I’m trying.