I’ve decided to let myself be an artist everyday. A flawed, messy, complex, and beautiful creature with thoughts, feelings, and a thirst for life-awareness. I will relinquish my fear and cling to my freedom. I will be kind to myself.
Take, for instance, the truth “Change is constant.” Mentally, we can absorb that teaching with little difficulty. Yet when change occurs in our lives this truth terrifies us. We often need years to recover from some changes because we had hoped that it—whatever “it” was—would remain the same. We knew all along that it would change, but we can’t help hoping that the energy of change will pass by this one part of our lives.
Even when “Change is constant” feels like an enemy that has swept away a happy part of our lives, our lonely times will come to an end and a new part of life will begin. The promise of “Change is constant” is that new beginnings always follow closures.
Bhakti Skool: A Journal of Experiences
Day 1: Check out the full post here.
Day 2: Altars & Getting Sentimental
I don’t know how else to say it. Teacher trainings bring up whatever is going on off the mat. For me, my 200-hour teacher training was the first time I got intimately acquainted with what it means for yoga to be a spiritual practice, a mental practice, and an emotional practice. On a literal/practical level, this is evidenced by the fact that only 2 hours maximum of a typical 10-hour-long training is made up of asana. So what do we do for the other 8 hours? We sit (a lot). We chant. We talk about our feelings. We read the Sutras and the Gita and apply both directly to our lives. For me, my 200-hour was a time where I felt spiritually and emotionally full. It brought up the happiness I was feeling at the time, as someone embarking on a new adventure. But feeling fullness also means that the emptiness can come up as well; in Bhakti Skool on the second day, we all got acquainted with the struggles in our lives - with our obstacles - and we learned to draw on Ganesh and Mantras to move through them.
One of the ways we did this was by creating a cOMmunal altar with bits of our lives that we wanted to literally bring to the table. On a beautiful shawl, we spread out tokens of remembrance. I brought in a little Ganesha that my boyfriend’s mother brought back for me from South Africa (OK, fine, I’m the one who determined that elephant keychain was a Ganesha, but it might just be an elephant) and I also added to the altar the name plate my little sister made for me the night before at our Passover Seder. On everyone’s name plates, she wrote the word “LOVE” at the bottom - completely unprompted. I placed this gem on the altar to remind myself of how oftentimes, my best teachers are under the age of ten.
The end of the day was my favorite part of the training as a whole: POETRY TIME! We all chose poems that had personal meaning to us. Here is a line from one of my favorite Rumi poems:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Day 3: Harmonium for the Musically Challenged
Wednesday is hump day and apparently that means it’s time to give the musically challenged a big lesson in keys, chords, ragas, mantras, and sound. Raghunauth came in the afternoon to teach us a huge harmonium lesson, which then turned into him sharing his wisdom on life in general. I learned the drone for the sound of OM and you know what? That’s better than nothing for this tone deaf girl who yet again found herself in a sea of the musically gifted.
Day 4: Mythology & Philosophy for Academics
In the morning, Mary Dana taught us about mindfulness and the spirituality of alignment and mindfulness. We practiced almost exclusively on blocks, which was a refreshing change to the looseness of the movement we were acquainted with up until that point. Below is what I journaled on the subject before the practice:
Mindfulness, for me, does not mean thinking before or after acting; it is thinking while acting so that there is that sacred pause during the event. Mindfulness is the realization of our parts in complex situations that emerge from careful consideration of the truth of understanding a situation relatively, objectively, and with so much compassion.
The afternoon went by so quickly on this second-to-last day because of Sri Emily Stone, mythology genius and former Greek mythology teacher who I so wish was my professor last semester when I took “The Epic.” Her approach was gorgeously scholarly and it reminded me of the purpose of critical thinking in learning how to be a better teacher. Feelings are awesome. But sometimes, we have to get down and dirty into opinions and forming our own thoughts. Maha gratitude to this hard-ass teacher (in the best sense of the term) for providing us with this insight.
Day 5: Integration & Stepping into the Seat of the Teacher
Ali Cramer woke us up on our last morning of training. It served as the perfect transition into her Ayurveda training, which I did the following week (post coming soon!). We began with writing exercises from Anodea Judith’s (new?) book Creating on Purpose and Oh, My Goddess, the answers those writing prompts revealed were shocking to me. In terms of what I have to offer when I bring these spiritual practices down to reality, there was a lot more of my writing passion bleeding through my pen than I expected. I am beginning to learn that it is vital for writing and teaching to coexist as divine partners, Shakti and Shiva. Ali’s practice was much needed because during the first four days of this training, we spent a lot of time with the Upper Chakras: the spiritual plane, and her morning practice was all about going from up to down; how do we integrate?
The afternoon answered that question as we all taught each other for fifteen minutes. I was relieved to realize how comfortable I feel in the seat of the teacher, even as I awkwardly “play the harmonium” while chanting Om Namah Shivaya (chanting, while not unfamiliar for me as a practitioner, does feel unfamiliar to me as a teacher). Yet as I shared a Dharma Talk and truly paid attention to everyone’s exhausted bodies, I took the practice outward and proved its transformative application to myself.
BHAKTI SKOOL DAY ONE: Gayatri
Two weeks ago, I had my last thesis meeting with my advisor. She is a professor of English and Caribbean literatures. She also grew up in a Hindu household. At the end of our meeting on the Cuban Literacy Campaigns, she summoned me over to her desk. “Shira,” she asked in her rather dramatic voice, “are you familiar with the Gayatri Mantra?”
"We learned it in my yoga teacher training," I responded. That was in 2011 and aside from when Deva Premal comes up when I put my iTunes on shuffle, I haven’t thought about it much since.
So this whole incidence with my thesis advisor from two weeks ago felt like divinely inspired coincidence today when we opened up our Bhakti Skool 5-day intensive 50-hour training at Laughing Lotus by chanting and learning the Gayatri, the mantra for new beginnings.
In the ten or so hours since then, I have chanted my mouth off. And this coming from a girl who considers herself severely tone-deaf.
This training is a lot different from the two other trainings I did with Laughing Lotus in January and I am reminded of how different trainings attract different kinds of people and yet there are so many of us who want to learn it all: the inversions, the Bhakti, the Ayurveda, what exists on the mat and what exists far beyond it.
Today, we studied (and drew) Ganesh, the elephant God (pictured above) who represents the root of everything, a great pairing with the Gayatri - a welcoming of new beginnings. And through it all we were encouraged to reflect on our introductions to the spiritual components of this abundant practice. Below is what I journaled about during a “stop and jot,” scheduled breaks in the vinyasas of a rather rigorous class.
The first time I heard a harmonium was years ago at Pure Yoga when Alanna Kaivalya played it in class. I felt a joy well up inside of me from the inside and it was almost like that joy didn’t even make its way outside; it was just for me.
Om bhur bhuvaheswaha
Tat savitur vareneneyam