August 30, 2011

Sweet Surrender

I’m a recent convert to Yoga - the twisted poses, the deep breathing exercises, the headstands - I currently can't get enough!  One class on a freezing Monday back in March was all it took to draw me in and I've been downward-dogging it ever since.

While holding the yoga poses, I’m reminded of the beautiful, graceful movements of dance that once filled my evenings.  Peace and spirituality fill the studio in quantities that are elusive on most normal days of busy city life.  When I’m up to my neck in negative thoughts caused by the world’s a**holes and selfish actions, and am convinced that we’re all on a path straight to hell, yoga forces me to weed through all that, find the good, and meditate on it.  And…..well, it’s an incredibly sweaty work out and I’m getting awesome bicep muscles from all the high planks.  

Aside from the obvious physical benefits though, I love the feeling during practice when I look at the instructor incredulously and think, oh no, there is NO way I can do THAT, but then I try, and…I can.  I love the time taken out of a busy, self-centered schedule to focus on something other than myself and daily worries. I love when the instructor reminds me to take a deep breath and open myself up to the universe.   

Does my love of all this come from the inner New Age hippie in me emerging: that free spirit that was born in the wrong decade?  Partly, but a larger part comes from continuous excitement at discovering with each new pose, each deep breath, that God and love can be found in so many other ways than just the conventional route.

I’ve been moved by the idea of surrender that is so important in the principles of yoga.  I’ll be holding a particularly difficult pose, struggling against myself when the instructor walks by and says softly “surrender into the posture”.  And I do.  Not that I can automatically do it, but that fighting/ struggling/ hating feeling passes, and it’s somehow, almost imperceptibly, easier.  

As we were abruptly reminded of recently, life doesn’t go according to plan.  Obstacles pop up, things fall through, opportunities arise, and in some especially sad cases, it’s all over in an instant and way too soon.  

That’s where surrender comes in.  Whatever comes, comes, and you can fall into it – maybe not with ease, or painlessly, but at the very least with a certain acceptance. 

Back when we were traveling, it seems like our best experiences came when we put down the guide book, and went with whatever came along.  For example, Sonagir, India, February 2009:

Two weeks into our travels through India, we unexpectedly tumbled into Sonagir late in the afternoon. The village of Jain temples on a plateau was on our list of things to see, but had a big question mark by it, since there wasn't any information in the guide book or on the internet about the place. It's not even marked on most available maps.

We jumped onto a delayed train in the usual manner – amongst the chaos of the train platform, hoping we were hurling ourselves towards the train that would take us in the general direction of where we wanted to go. As the train started moving, leaving Gwalior behind, we learned through stilted English conversations with other passengers that this particular train didn’t stop in Sonagir, since it was an express route.  As the sun moved closer to setting on the horizon, we gave up hope of going to see the temples that day.

We were busily consulting the Lonely Planet, trying to decide what to do next when we felt the rocking of the train halt to a stop, heard the squeal of brakes, and we pulled up to a station, waiting for signal clearance.  Our local friends on the train started to gesture rapidly to us, Get off, Sonagir!  Sonagir!  

So we did, in a tumble of our backpacks and confusion, we landed on the train platform of Sonagir, a little unsure of how exactly we got there, but glad to be there nonetheless.  We were then officially off the beaten path.

There were no buses, no taxis, no local trains: no public transportation to speak of.  We began walking down the main street of the village, asking advice from locals on how to get from the train station to the temples some 5km away.  One store owner sadly told us that there was nothing, but offered us his motorcycle to borrow for a couple hours.  Then an army truck pulled up.  Our new local friends negotiated a ride for us with him and we set off through the simple countryside. 

The ride wasn't free, of course.  Our driver's fee? Posing for a picture with Sergio. With his gun too.  

The soldier dropped us off at the front entrance to the temple area, promising to look after our backpacks and give us a ride back later.  So, we took of our shoes and headed up the path. 

A young, eager-to-practice-his-English guide got word of the foreigners visiting, and he caught up with us halfway up to the temples.  He gave us a nice, if somewhat word-y guided tour through the temples, and left us alone at some points. We wandered through the temples, in the last bits of sun before the sunset.

For one of the first times in my life, I suddenly feel like words aren’t enough to describe Sonagir.  It seems mundane to describe it only as beautiful, because it was way more than that.  Up on the hill, between the hundreds of temples and shrines, we could see for miles.  It felt like we were nowhere and everywhere at once.  In some areas, we were the only people around, but at the same time, there was an energy that buzzed through the air, as if we weren't alone at all. 

After watching the sunset from one temple overlooking a valley so serene that we could hear the exact moment the sun dropped past the horizon, we made our way back down to find our military man.  

He ended up finding us, then we had a chai in the dusk at a small cafe with some local military leaders and our guide.  Then, we returned to the train station, in a big hurry because our train was supposed to leave in 20 minutes!!!.....only to arrive and find that no one knew when the next train was going to stop by.  We settled onto our backpacks, grabbed two samosas, and made friends with a group of kids who had gathered to play “look at the foreigners”.  

The kids were so sweet and so curious about us, the only bad part about the four hour wait for the train was that we couldn’t take them with us, and that our camera had run out of battery.  Another one of those evenings that is best captured in the heart.  

Finally, the train pulled in to Sonagir station, perhaps on time, perhaps late, no one really knew, but we stepped on to the train, looking back to wave at the boys gathered on the train stop, and settled into our berths wondering how in the world that afternoon had come to pass.  We had stopped planning, pushing, and controlling for a couple of hours, and surrendered to India.  

This concept of surrender doesn’t necessarily mean giving in and giving up.  I think of it more as an emptying out of expectations and doubts, making room for the unknown- whatever that may be.

Surrender is essential when we’re about to start a new challenge like a non-profit.  It’s scary, looking into the void, having all these unknowns popping out at us, and instead of backing away from it, letting go and giving in.  

Negative what if… what if … what if’s drown out anything else, and because of all the questions, we can’t tell if this is even the right thing to do.  What if we fail, what if it doesn’t work, what if we blow it?

But conversely -  what if we can do so much more than what we’re doing right now?  

Because, in the end aren’t all those question marks kind of….great?  Don’t they leave the door open for so many exciting things that couldn’t happen with safe, declarative sentences?  

The pervasive conventional thought is that since we're married and in our upper 20’s right now, we should be thinking about settling down, “growing up”.  But the way we see it, right now is the time where we’re full of confidence, just enough experience to be wiser, but not quite enough to be bitter and jaded.  Now is when we’re finally taken seriously when we talk, and actually have the means to do some of the things we talk about.  Now is the time to keep building on that momentum.  Not settling down, but shaking things up.

Now is just the time to take a crazy idea like creating a non-profit to the next level, not the time to fade into the monotony of the quotidian.  Call it unending optimism, call it youthful delusion, but whatever it is, we should take advantage while it’s still around.  

And who says that the scary ‘what if’ elements are unknown, per say…they’re just unknown to us.  Just like in Sonagir when it felt like we had some kind of invisible hand guiding us along, I think it’s time to throw ourselves at the mercy of the universe again – open our arms and say, give us what you’ve got: we’re open to suggestions.  

And if we do it right – with open minds, staying together, looking forward, and using love as that unwavering force and guide that should become our signature scent, the future “what if” can be: 

What if we accomplish anything we ever set out to do?     

It takes a certain amount of courage to give in to whatever is coming next, and a weird sort of thought process to both extensively plan and surrender at the same time.  However, if yoga has taught me anything in the last few months of practice, it’s that killer biceps and a sweaty yoga mat are only the beginning if we close our eyes, find our balance, and surrender to the flow.

*For Ya-ya Girlie, whose continued presence in our lives reminds us that we should sing karaoke every chance we have, dance the cha cha when there’s music, smile like it's the only option, and makes us ever so more determined to keep our eyes focused on the good.  

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