Tuesday, January 1, 2013

You Can Take the Boy Out of India...

I woke this morning with an odd but familiar urge.  "Odd" because it's been a long time since I've felt it. "Familiar" because I've felt its pull before and despite the passage of time and its seeming dissolution, it has remained in me: small, dormant... or to borrow a word from the fields of photography and yoga, both of which mean so much to me: latent.

When my urges feel natural and continuous with my being, when they feel familiar in the same way my own face does in the mirror when I see it, I think it's because these feelings have not only been there before, but that they've never left me.  They may simply not have been as strong.  Or more likely, I was not paying attention to them until that moment.

This particular urge, the one I had this morning, appropriately on the morning of New Year's Day, is hard to confine to one word, or even a few of them.  I woke wanting the flavors of India in my mouth, the routine I had there, so focused and deliberate, the person I was when I was there, and, most of all, the feelings that came with these.  I wasn't missing the fruits of these, but their process.  But I wanted them so badly that I wanted nothing else.

I jumped out of bed and immediately began to cook.  I didn't have a recipe in mind but I knew the tastes and smells I wanted:
     1. Mushrooms cooked in chili peppers, green onions and yellow curry powder.
     2. Tomatoes briefly fried in pecan oil with garlic.
     3. And yogurt doused with hot olive oil with fennel seeds and cardamom.

My partner, Kevin, wasn't sure what to make of my state of mind.  We've been together more than 9 years now and he's used to my sudden "arrebatos."  For those of you who don't speak Spanish, this is, unfortunately, the best word I can come up with to describe it.  It's one that my mother used with me in my youth often enough.  I just don't know how to appropriately translate it.  It's usually translated as "fit," but actually has both negative connotations ("rage," "fury," and "outburst") and very positive ones ("ecstasy" and "rapture").  And it is the closest thing to defining the sensation of an uncontrollable drive that pulls you out of yourself, out of your habits and comfort zones.  It makes you seem irrational to others but it leaves no question in your mind as to what needs to happen, what you need to eat or do or be.  It's at once deeply uncomfortable and deeply comforting.  And it offers you such certainty, regardless of how crazy it is, that you feel empowered by it.  We're usually drawn to the things that are easy, that are familiar and comfortable.  And perhaps that's why it seems so strange when an urge draws us to something strange and completely different from what we've come to know.  But there is such value in it.

Kevin also didn't know what to make of the food: "Everything smells great... and looks disgusting."  I asked what specifically looked gross and he pointed out "what looks like yogurt with yellow slime and roasted termites." I explained that the termites were fennel seeds and the slime olive oil (both things he loves).  He smelled it and on recognizing two ingredients he loves, was content with the mix.

We sat down to eat.  To say that I was finally comfortable is to understate things.  It wasn't an out-of-this world experience.  I was at ease.  But it was an ease that felt more genuine than most.  It was the essence of ease that I felt.

The food was a perfect mix of heating and cooling, spicy and mild, and the amount enough to feed us both with no leftovers but the yogurt.  I felt neither full nor hungry, and I remembered the words of Kausthub Desikachar the last time I saw him: "When you eat with bhakti, you won't overeat or stay hungry.  And you won't gain weight."

"Bhakti" is Sanskrit word usually translated as "devotion," "deep faith" or "zeal."  It is a common term in our Yoga lexicon, particularly because it is one of the three main paths of Yoga as defined by the Bhagavad Gita.  Some would say that there is, infact, only Bhakti yoga, that all other forms, if performed to their full extent, are either a path to it or a means of it.

I wasn't quite sure what this meant when I first heard it, years ago in my first yoga teacher training, but since that time I've come across examples of it in textbooks and articles, have heard my share of testimonials, and I think I had my first personal experience of it these last two days.    

On New Year's Eve I woke with a very different type of urge: to clean.  It was an impulse that I rarely have. This has become a bit of a joke with our friends, since I can (and have in the past) live in suspect conditions.  I have a way of adapting to chaos, to a mess and to dirt that makes it possible for me to be in the midst of them with little noticeable discomfort.

But that's not to say they don't have their effect.  And yesterday I could sense their effect and it was critical that I clean our condo, which has been in one way or another in the midst of restoration since we bought it a few months back, so that there was no dirt from 2012 following us into the new year.  The urgency was so alien to me because, despite often being prone to superstition, I am quite particular about these, and a proper cleaning to avoid the energy or essence of one year's dirt from seeping into the next year was not among them.  But I felt it and followed it without rest.

I wiped everything down, gave the granite a proper shine, picked up all the stacks of paper we've been meaning to go through and put them in their proper place, and moved the boxes of gifts and soon-to-sell-on-eBay items into a nice stack in the guest bedroom/office.  I fixed the scratched coffee table and put protective pads on the new patio set, swept the patio floor, cleaned the bathrooms, dusted everywhere imaginable and took the wet mop to the floors.  I then emptied the dishwasher and cleaned the remaining dirty dishes by hand, and took all the laundry, along with the towels and rags I'd used to clean, and put them in the wash.

All the trash was taken out and I left a little plastic bag in case we collected any trash the remaining part of the day.  The house didn't need to just be clean but also need to be free of all trash.  I opened up all the windows to get even the stale air out and invite fresh air in.

2012 was a loaded year, both personally and globally.  We watched a young friend undergo a bone-marrow transplant and then deal with its uncomfortable and ambiguous aftermath.  We lost an older friend to brain cancer.  Family members suffered serious financial woes.  My yoga community experienced a devastating sex abuse scandal.  And both our jobs had very rocky moments, mostly due to the effects of a sluggish economy, leaving us feeling, at least momentarily, like we were on shaky ground.  On a broader scale, we had friends affected by Hurricane Sandy.  We saw an election year that clearly revealed the bipolar character of our country and the disturbing misogyny that is rampant in some elements.  The U.N. designation of Palestine as a "non-member state" (the same designation as the Vatican) made it clear for many of us that what the U.S. government considers best for the U.S. (it was not a supporter of the decision) is not necessarily what many Americans think is the right thing to do.  The anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was marked with the storming of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left the U.S. ambassador and four others dead.  And worst of all, we suffered two senseless mass shootings in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT.  The latter felt like a loss of innocence for this country.  And perhaps that's exactly what it was.

Maybe it's appropriate that, whether we were believers or non-believers in the end-time prophecy, the year 2012 had as its mark the end of the Mayan calendar and the expectation of something major coming to an end.  For some it was a reason to return to the paranoia and hysteria that has so often overwhelmed the U.S. from so many different fronts; and they reacted by hoarding food and guns and building what essentially amount to minor forts to protect against change, discomfort, chaos and death.  For most of us, though, I think it was a marker that we would rather see as a metaphorical, and potentially energetic, change in the world.  Something known and familiar was coming to a close and we had no idea what was on the other side.  It was (and remains) more curious than it was frightening.

I wanted all this, all of the year's effects, out of the house we share.

Kevin came home to a clean condo, which he loved, but also to a very intense and determined partner, which he has learned to handle with care and healthy suspicion when I get like this.  He simply asked why I was so focused on this and, once I gave a brief explanation, he was happy to let me finish.  My partner exhibits a certain faith that is inspiring to me.  He doesn't need to understand things in order to let them share space with him.  This isn't something most of us can do.  It's something I've worked hard to achieve infact.  And it doesn't always happen.

I think I ended my tornado-like sweep of our place at 6p.m.  And I didn't feel the least bit tired.

Perhaps if you clean with bhakti, you won't be drained of energy.

That "arrebato" finished, I was good to enjoy a few hours of relaxation and sleep until I woke with the new one this morning, the one yearning for flavors and routines that I'd enjoyed almost two years ago now.  What is most comforting about these fits is how much they fill me.  They make me feel more in tune with myself.  They aren't like the typical escapes to food or habits.  They plunge me so much deeper into inexplicable desires and needs.  Needs that are satiated not by comfort foods, neurosis or comfortable habits, but by some churning of energies inside and the activities and foods and thoughts that lead to that.

When I last saw Kausthub I asked him for help with a pain in my chest that no doctor had been able to detect with their instruments, let alone diagnose, and which I suspected has its roots in something deeper than the physical.  He drew up a practice, which I still do to this day, and offered up his reasoning: "There is something inside you that you have to cook."

It's funny to read that now, given this morning's urge.  I understood, and I believe I am accurate in this understanding, that the "cooking" he was referring to, though, was to face and focus my energy on something within me that was undealt with and, in being left alone, was having unplanned, and in my case unfavorable, effects. This is the nature of the unfaced.  Almost every culture, regardless of how non-confrontational they are, agrees that things left undealt with will typically have unwanted effects.  If they are left alone for too long, they can be very difficult to manage, and sometimes, in the worst cases, impossible to isolate via typical means.

The only option left then is to dig deep into your Self, into the essence of you, to find this ultimate connection which then makes everything in the phenomenal universe clear, including your quirks, aversions, addictions, fetishes and the source of your reasoning.  This is, of course, easier said than done, and many people on the spiritual path never experience it, even for a moment.

But the beginnings of it is to listen.  To listen well.  And to listen hard.  That voice inside you is always speaking, nudging you towards one thing or another (and sometimes away from things).  This voice, I believe, gets frustrated with thinkers like me: people who focus too much on logic and reasoning, on what is palpable and measurable.  And out of its frustration come these "arrebatos."  Once I'm in its grasp, I feel so different.  On task but at peace.  If I try to resist it, I'm left with the sensation that something isn't right.  If I follow it, no matter what other concerns I may have, what other urgent things need to get done, they seem meaningless... or manageable and not something I should concern myself with at the moment.

In a way, having done no asana or pranayama, this was my yoga practice yesterday and today.  It is, afterall, this kind of connection that I seek whenever I get on the mat.  Here it happened naturally, without any urging from my own will and with no need for discipline.  And the effects, I can testify, are not much different than what I experience on the mat.  Perhaps practicing with devotion or bhakti is just that: practice.  Ultimately we are to live with it: listening to the call of what we're devoted to and doing its bidding without question.  Not looking for reason or logic or even patterns, but trusting that the inspiration is coming from a good place and leading us to a good place...a better place... infact the place we need at that very moment.

I had a third "arrebato" today after I was done cleaning the kitchen after breakfast.  A milder one.  Not wrapped up in urgency but firm nonetheless.  Or maybe it was my response to it, more fluid and accommodating, having now had practice with the two previous.  It called me to write.  To continue the writings I'd started when I'd gone to India, and to document my journey now, no less important (and potentially moreso) because I'm at home.

Three hours later, here you have it.  My fit is finished for now.

Blessings to all on this New Year's Day!

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