25 January, Tuesday
It’s 7 pm. I’ve just had an evening coconut, sitting under the tree on Gokulam’s the main corner, while the pink light fades and the motorcycles turn on their headlights. This is a nightcap for the likes of us—me and the handful of others who drift over for drinks and raw young coconut in lieu of dinner. We’ll see each other again at around 3:45 tomorrow morning, sitting outside the front gates of the shala with headphones and hoodies.
Elizabeth asked what happens in a typical day. As I mentioned, recent weeks have been atypical because especially intense; and this week is set to be hilariously challening. But here’s a sketch.
Context: It’s our last week of Level 1 of Sanskrit, with a couple of long written assignments and drills during class. We’re working some of the relatively challenging material of the ayurveda/ subtle body/ massage course, with class sessions of three hours or more, and me doing practice sessions on a couple of “kapha” men at least twice my size. For me, this is an interesting physical, mental and emotional challenge. Meantime, I’ve been moved up from a 6:00 am practice time to 4:15 am, the opening time slot during which Sharath tends to work most intensely with more experienced students. And in honor of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Bangalore on Sunday, our usual Saturday rest has been swapped with Sunday, making for a 7-day run of morning practice bookended by two sessions of Led Intermediate. (Led Intermediate is analogous Led Primary, with—of course, like all practice here—no pauses or teacher discourses, zero faffing around, meditative focus on vinyasa, a steady rhythm, and long holds in the hard postures. Some students practice Led Intermediate rather than the usual Led Primaries that replace Mysore practice Fridays and Sundays. To me, it’s like fresh powder on the ski slopes or cycling down Vail pass—on routes I know, and love, by heart.)
For now, these days begin when the alarm rings at 3:01 (one, or—horrors—two minutes earlier would be irrational; we’ll leave the 2:00-hour wake-ups to people who have really joined the cult). I turn on the little water heater in my bathroom, practice nauli and neti kriyas, and then dance around for five or ten minutes, until I can feel not only my surface layers but the actual marrow in the bones begin to move. Currently, the soundtracks on heavy rotation for this activity are: Pantha Du Prince (thanks to Underground Sounds on Liberty), devotional ragas by a local artist the improbable name of Ganesh Schlegl, and Nicki Minaj’s last mixtape. Eh, just about anything can be turned in to a support for practice.
When the tiny water heater simmers, I pour its contents in to an old paint bucket and then upend that over my head. This not exactly a shower, and not exactly a bath: around here, we call it taking a bucket. It’s the best. I’m always so grateful for its warmth, given that this is the first year heated water is common in Gokulam. I wonder how much water and power Americans would conserve cleansing like this, and if we’d sooner foment revolution than accept such strictures?
I’m out the door by 3:45, cruising up the hill on Violet (this is the scooter, a Scooty Pep “Fashion Series,” whose essentially unhip non-motorcycleness is enhanced by its–her?–purpleness). I pick up Rachel, a karma yogi of the first order who I’ve decided shouldn’t walk to practice, given that she spends the rest of her day working in the hospital for no compensation besides the heart piece. We drive through the dead-quiet back streets, past the scaffolded water tower and mist-covered fields, and back down in to the wealthy blocks of lower Gokulam. In front of one of the big homes is a bunch of odd figures sitting on the ground, emanating a vibe of reverence mixed with a vroom-vroom anxiety. The 4:15 crew. Rueful asana junkies, the lot of us.
Then asana practice. To continue on a conversation between me and Rachel, I’ll mention to you that it’s my practice not to talk about my practice, notably the daily fluctuations or close teacher relationships. Rehearsing or evaluating that stuff tends to generate all kinds of false, self-reinforcing stories, growth-limiting delusions, and energy drains from the rest of life/practice. It also builds up clunky baggage about being an asana person or a meditating person. Let’s travel light, and keep it simple where we can. By contrast, it’s so sad when one gets in to the habit of tagging practice with “like” and “dislike” or “good” and “bad”: this is inimical to equanimity. And equanimity is one of the names of the game. So, for the sake of managing my own delusions and because I love quiet-minded practice so, so much, I’ll let that be. Except (!) in cases that I think it’s very useful for you, or my own practice is strong enough to bear it…, or it just has to be done to keep us from getting all pious.
After practice, a coconut or two with good people; then I take Violet to the chai stand for a hit or two of yet another version of heaven. Then home to have a bite to eat and catch up on email and the news, or (if necessary, as it was today) sleep. A quick dosa (20 rupees, or 50 cents) at a stand-up café full of old men at 9:15, the big subtle body class from 10 – 1:30 ish, lunch with friends from 1:45 – 2:45, Sankrit homework until 4 (while the others drink coffee, explore the city, or go volunteer at the orphanage), Sanskrit class from 4-5. From 5-6 a trip to the tailor to pick up a new meditation cushion, or to the grocery store for tumeric and castor oil. When the magic light descends on Mysore late in the 5:00 hour, I start to dial it down, and do my best to be back inside the house by a bit after dark.
Which is where this brings us now. I’ll listen to NPR and oil my knees (which are wonderfully recovered from the challenges I experienced all fall—so much so that I like to give them a little gratitude massage every night), take another bucket, say good morning/night to Rob, meditate, and go for blowing out the candles by 8:30.
Much love and more presently.