17 January, Monday

by Angela

I have been thinking of you, and smiling in your general direction.

It’s Monday evening at six, Mysore’s magic hour. I’ve just sipped down the day’s last coconut—an wizened, woody monster bigger than my head and old enough to have fermented and gone all bubbly like a good kombucha. And now a bit of quiet time. I’m sitting atop the roof of my house—a marble and metal 3-story whose empty top floor I’ve rented—as the sun sets in oranges and blues over Kukkaranahalli Lake. The almost-full moon—huge and close—has already risen over the shala on the other side of Gokulam. And, like every night at this hour, activity everywhere has fallen in to a lull as shops call it a day, families shift in to their intimate hours together at home, and the crazy, early-rising yoga students call goodnight across the rooftops. The light is slanted and golden—maybe it’s the ambient dust, or maybe it’s some luck of longitude that makes evenings here so radiant. When the glow fades, just before evening traffic picks up, holy prayers from the Mosques will resonate their errie minor notes throughout the city.

Six p.m. is always sublime in Mysore. As active as I’ve been these past two weeks, at six I always come alive in a different way. I get to a rooftop, or the Lake, or Chamundi Hill, or the Palace downtown, or wherever… and allow my mind to slow down while all the sense perceptions welcome this phase-shift and its otherworldly light.

This is not to say that south India is beautiful in an obvious sense. Sure, at times I’m undone by photogenic stuff like the size and depth of every little kid’s eyes, or the arc of the script used to letter street signs. And I won’t even start, today, to describe the glorious food.

And at the same time… the human, animal and environmental suffering are everything you may have heard, even as religious and spiritual life are as vibrant, deep and diverse as any I’ve experienced anywhere. So from here I’m going to toss out the paired stereotypes—India as land of suffering; India as land of transcendence. I’m not here for salvation or to get a story—I’m just here to become a deeper teacher—so there’s no need to turn the place itself into some exotic, dramatic character. I’ll leave that to dull American advertisements and escape fantasies that engage yoga as if it’s a cartoon genie–here to give cheap IT or transcendence and then go poof out of the way.

That said, my first trip here was undertaken as a kind of pilgrimage—when a beloved PhD adviser was killed on his motorcycle, I had to do something to honor him and the bond we’d shared as closeted meditation practitioners in academia. After 7 or so years of ashtanga practice, Mysore—distant and challenging though it may be—was the only option because this is the seedbed of modern yoga.

The second trip back here was a practice adventure –three long months posed as a question about the future, but also creating closure and reflection at the end of the life I loved in LA.

Those trips had a receptive, lyrical, even transformative quality. My organism, somewhat prepared by several years of daily practice and more meditation than I’d like to say, went through two fairly big openings. The first of these had to do with blocks deep in my pelvis and chest areas, freeing up movement in my spine. The second had to do with becoming conscious of subtle, character-limiting fears and resentments toward my parents, other major figures in my life, and myself.

Deepening my yoga practice is the central focus of this trip too, but what’s different this time is that I’m also here to deepen my teaching practice as much as possible. I’m feeling a bit more practical. While my main teacher asked me to teach in 2008, this is the first year I’ve taken that somewhat seriously. It’s the first year I got the long-resisted immunizations and brought a decent scooter helmet, the first year I’ve undertaken classes rather than just learning by being around.

Which is not to say I’m getting all serious over here. Yoga is just some technologies for concentration, equanimity and vibrant health. Beyond that, it’s no joke that we all have the option of cultivating immanent presence and transcendent ecstasy on a dime. But that, in itself, is a cosmic kind of joke.

Anyway, in addition to getting settled (I’ll tell you that story later) and practicing every day while taking care of two pressing family matters back in the US, I’ve given myself a relatively strong course of study. I’m taking classes in Sanskrit, so that the “street Sankrit” I’ve absorbed from philosophy classes and chanting marathons will have a clarity and confidence I haven’t been able to offer you so far. This involves lectures, chanting sessions, and—to my horror—homework.

On Wednesday, I begin a 20-day course on massage through the lenses of the subtle and emotional bodies. This is a pretty extraordinary opportunity: an intensive, small course with a teacher I’ve quietly admired for years but who has been “discovered” by an audience of thousands in recent months. So although the prospect of three workshop hours a day is a bit daunting, given this combines with the usual physical practice, daily sitting, the Sanskrit business and urgent need to fill my daily coconut and chai quotas; and although it’s very expensive; in the long run this course is too valuable to miss. I’ll be happy to have this learning under my skin when we’re back together.

Now that I’ve broken the seal on posting here, I’ll update this blog more regularly. With a serious personal loss and some major professional deliberations the past 6 weeks, I’ve accumulated email much faster than I’ve answered it. If you’re wondering if I’m ever going to respond, it’s just that under the circumstances I’ve slow-tracked personal email so that I can take the time to focus on it and enjoy talking with you. Please pardon my lag time, especially if you’re waiting for my response to some question. In any case, I love hearing from you—you’d never believe the size of the cheesy grins you put on my face when I open my laptop in public places. So do drop a line anytime, either here in the comments or by email. I’m here and will respond presently.

Meantime, new photos are posting here.

By the way, thanks for this website—whose minimalism is exactly what I wanted—go to my brother Aaron Flint Jamison and our fictive-brother Alex Mahan. These two have kept me in webspace five years running, with design that’s almost-invisibly beautiful, and functionality that makes my work a breeze. Thanks, guys.