05.03.2013 - 14.06.2013
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There is a new vision of myself that I treasure. It is from an asana practice on a beach in South Carolina. We came here for a week with my parents before settling into our new lives in Chicago. This is the capstone to our five months of stravaigin traveling. Jim and I set our mat spaces (towels really) among about twenty other yogis for a 7:30am practice. The sun was already well above the horizon, already burning bright yellow and moving towards the searing white it would be later in the day. The temperature was in the mid nineties (yep, we are back in Fahrenheit land), but the ocean breeze was strong and constant. With my eyes mostly closed against the light, the class began our warmups and sun salutations, and my thoughts shifted to an entirely different Surya Namaskara.
Just outside Jaipur, Jim and I left our tuk-tuk driver parked with his richly decorated vehicle and climbed up the steep hill of Galtaji to the Surya Mandir, the temple of the sun. It was Janmashtami, Krishna's birthday, and so the city was seasoned with parades and brightly dressed people visiting their favorite temples. Drums, bells and chanting wafted dynamically through the air like the whirling aromas of spices, insense and refuse. As we walked up, we shared the path with men, women, children, packs of teenegaers, ascetic men in face and body paint, but also dogs, sheep, goats, pigs, macaques and of course cows and water buffalo. "Namaste" is the normal greeting used among people, used as easily as we do "hello" or " hi." It is always expressed with the hands pressd together in front of the sternum and a slight or deep bow of the head. "Namaskar" is the formal variation, to be used when we encounterd older people of ones that looked "holy." (We had to judge our books by their covers on that). We had been corrected a couple times already. As we approached the temple, passersby shared this greeting with us and we with them. They asked for their photos to be taken, or to take our photos, or to shake our hands. One gorgeously dressed group of women paused and each shook my rough dry hand in their elegant henna-painted ones and said in gentle but perfect English "how do you do." It was a beautiful morning, hot but dry, and the "Pink City" stretched out below us in a compact arrangement of salmon colored hovels, palaces and tiny alleyways that have probably been in their places for centuries. Our spirits were buoyed by the sinceity of the people we passed. After the rapacious touts and frauds in Delhi these folks were honestly curious and friendly. It was exhilerating to be out in the sun, feeling its warmth reflected in the eyes and faces of these marvelous people, so generous with their smiles.
The temple at the crown of the hill was small but high and eleborately carved of white stone. We took our shoes off and were welcomed by a man standing outside the door. We rang the temple bell as an outward sign that we were leaving behind our distractive preoccupations and entering the spiritual space with hearts and minds receptive to God. We sat on the floor in front of the altar and a woman came to place a dyed red dot on our foreheads, a sign of hospitality we would enjoy many times while in India. Two men were already sitting on the floor, one next to us and the other sitting in the altar niche itself, snuggled close to the murti (statue) representing the divine. Both men were chanting their prayers, one silently as he turned the pages of a book in front of him, the other with eyes closed, swaying and plenty audible. He chanted on and on, rhythmically, with an imperfect but zealous voice and I felt a small buddha smile lift the edges of my mouth when I recognized the Gayatri Mantra. I closed my eyes as well and felt blessed by the opportunity to travel to such a place, and to be in the presence of genuine worship. I focussed for a few moments on my breath, and brought to mind the faces of all the people that I loved, especially the husband sitting patiently next to me while I soaked in the energy and atmosphere of the place. He thought the whole thing was extremely cool as well. We left a small donation for the temple and felt a gorgeous blend of peace and enthusiasm as we set off for the rest of our day.
I came back to that feeling of peace and enthusiasm on the beach as we moved through Surya Namaskara A, our atheletic sun salutations. My practice wasn't perfect - beach yoga is messy with blowing sand, a divot-dug surface, and gusting cue-snatching wind; I'm out of shape, and the situation is distractingly beautiful. I wobbled, I shook, I careened off course, my back leg kept forgetting to be an anchor, my hands and arms occasionally flailed, and there was hollowness where there should have been stabilizing core strength. Nonetheless, I was loving it. The temple bell had rung in my heart, and as Diane Ackerman has written about "deep play," I was in an altered state of clarity, wild enthusiasm and saturation in the moment. My acting and thinking had become the same thing, and there was no room for other, especially judgemental or frustrating thoughts. The teacher invited us through some of my favorite poses - flipped dog, bird of paradise, pidgeon, double pidgeon and mermaid- and reflecting afterwards, although I have lost strength and flexibility in the past few months without regular asana practice, my yoga has grown in other ways. There are surprising openings in myself, and delightful connections as well. Altogether, there is more poetry and a more colorful vision.
The stravaigin trip has been woven into my life, and so into my practice. The scenes of transcendent beauty, sites and artifacts crafted by inspired and brilliant people, the kindnesses of strangers, sorting ourselves out of confusion and anxiety, considering a different perspective, surrender to things outside our control with faith that it would come out alright, overcoming fears, and walking hand in hand in love. All these things and more are expressed in my newest vision of myself. I lie sweetly tired in savasana on an Atlantic beach, my exquisite partner by my side, our hearts and minds floating together with the clouds in an immense and glowing blue sky of possibility and confidence. We are of course, surrounded by love and radiant light. Namaste.