Hamsa hamsa. 5-5. 55. My current age. Behind me, three decades practicing yoga. Yoga through the years.
My yoga path started with the venerable Goswami Kriyananda. I met him in Paris while pursuing my training in the field of bio-energetics. In the lineage to which he had been named head, kriya yoga was a yoga of action, and the action was the action of fire, the spiritual and metabolic fire capable of burning away the defilements of the mind until the true nature of Self could at last be perceived. Yoga was dedicated to transforming the mind through a tradition that was both a science and a mystical art.
-If you want to change the world, he would say, Change your mind.
In retrospect, I can say that I understood some of what he taught, but, ego, youth, and my autobiography – my personal story – were like boulders. Until I could chisel them down, I wouldn’t see past them.
In my late 20’s, yoga meant channeling my considerable energy into positive channels that would keep me fit and my mind steady. I was lucky enough to start my studies with a very exacting, meticulous Iyengar teacher who taught me that without discipline and obedience, no lasting good would come of my 3 time-a-week practice, however enthusiastic. She drew the line on the sand ; yoga tourists and dilettantes stay out.
While under the precious tutelage of the very French Irène Joubert, I learned that yoga was impersonal. Whatever I brought to class was what I brought to class. Leave it on the mat. Keep going.
We were not doing anything overly complicated, at least not on the surface. No triple flips off the high dive or any award-winning front cover yoga pose. Over and over again, we would do the same asanas, the standards, with no variations. No fun tricks. No twirling fire shows. Just straightforward asanas. Over and over again. Learn the basics, she would roar. Learn them well. Repeat them over and over again. When you think you know them, start over. Scratch the surface. Dig deep. Dig deeper.
We were asked to be attentive and to use the mind to hone our developing skills, using repetition to improve proprioceptive memory. As far as my teacher was concerned, no sense talking about the fancier stuff until we knew how to stand, to sit, to walk, to find our spinal column, to align our bones. Practice with her was much like being a renunciate, putting on a scratchy, always uncomfortable sack cloth willingly and practicing with steadfastness.
Soon enough, there was no question in my mind that yoga’s wand had worked its magic on me. I was intrigued -and delighted- as my body began to transform. Just as importantly, I began to see that what I call “I” was changing, too. Yoga was saving my life. It got me through the tail end of my 20’s, a marriage on the rocks, divorce and a trans-atlantic move, twice.
In my 30’s, I continued to study and practice, but mostly on my own. In the meanwhile, the person I was in my 20’s had disappeared. Motherhood had morphed me. My body, like my life, had gotten too small and so, I was asked to grow. Like in my 20’s, I was asked to put on that slightly uncomfortable sack cloth. This time, though, as my yoga community changed, moved away, I was pretty much on my own. No longer mainland. I was on an island, literally and figuratively. Sometimes I would play with my understanding of yoga and my resulting practice like a cat with a ball of yarn. Sometimes, I would cling to it, and at other times gingerly avoid it. Good practice, I found, always led me to the questions I needed to ask my life. If it was the body that was initially responding, I can honestly say I found that it was not possible to follow a yoga practice without bumping into all the other parts of myself, my emotional maelstroms, my psychic wars, and my gifts. Often, the more pertinent the questions became, the greater my resistance to examine them. And yet, with patience, a gulp, and a nose dive, the more gold I found, the more I wanted to share it with others. I became a certified teacher, and wove yoga into my work as a transpersonal therapist.
In my 40’s, as my teacher had been for me, I became a source for my students. A yogic lifeline. This meant that I must lead by example. No preaching. Just showing through my own life. This required a level of understanding that I was asked to thoroughly learn, diligently practice, deepen and share with others. The more I taught, the more I found things merging. Different teachings, comparative, studies, varying lineages, different traditions. Left brain and right brain. In and out. Buried treasures inside of me, inside of my students.
Through observation and practice, I began to venture beyond the confines of my first 15 years of practice to more fully allow myself the adventure of my intuition to guide me. Through years of studying, learning, delving inwards, training, cross-certifying, reading, I developed a point of view that resonated to a voice I would recognize anywhere as my own.
When I turned 50, a few important things happened.
My husband took me to Vegas. Any one who has ever spent any time with me knows that the one place that holds no interest for me is Vegas. Naturally, I was intrigued.
“Sweetheart, I ventured, uhhh, tell me about the Vegas choice…”
He just smiled. But on that first night, he kept his secret in the vault.
It wasn’t until the next day, when we got in the helicopter that he let the cat out of the bag. “I had to get you to Vegas to bring you here…”
And “here”, on that particular day, was the Grand Canyon. I had dreamed of her my whole adult life.
The helicopter landed gently, and swept by winds on that high plateau, looking at gorges, I smelled the ocean that had once flowed through the crevices that measured history, time, the passage of man. We held an impromptu birthday ceremony, a meditation on a rock, and I got quiet. Really still. And waited to listen for instruction.
A voice I will describe as the Great Grandmother said this, “From now on, you will never be totally happy again. Because in your happiness, however great, you will know sadness. From now on, you will never be totally sad, because in your grief, you will know happiness.” I understood the truth of her words. As long as any child is unhappy, hungry, abused, the world, despite my joy, grieves. Whenever one person breaks through, the heavens celebrate.
She spoke to me about the world, about belonging not only to myself, but to the world. She told me I was now entering the world of the grandmothers. The elders. My entrance price was my period. Fecundity. The second stage of womanhood. I left that part of my life in the Grand Canyon.
I had officially entered the life of the crone.
The words of Khalil Gibran echo through the canyons still today, …” your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you , but are not of you, for their souls live in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams”.
In the Native American tradition, the Butterfly Woman is not the prettiest, the hippest or the one with the tightest ass. She is the grandmother, and her body, her breasts, her face all speak of the transformations that all of life undergoes. Her heart has been washed clean by loving, tending to, caring for. She is the emblematic symbol of transformation, smiling, standing, capable of giving, come what may.
Yoga is the wheel of life, turning again and again, transforming and burning off all impurity until all that is left is the fiery gaze of awareness, the flame, flickering, growing, dimming, dreaming.
Yogic practice through the years has given me a perspective that, like the Grand Canyon, has been carved with time, created under pressure. Now the teachings gleam, burned to their diamond-like essence.
In St. Barth, the recent rains have brought out a legion of country butterflies, yellow and petite, sailing through the air.
Far in the distance, deep in the silence, I hear the Grandmothers sing…
“Loka samasta sukinoh bhavantu…
May all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering and the root causes of suffering, may all beings attain liberation.”