Monday, April 19, 2010

Sutra 1.13

sutra 1.13

tatra sthithau yatno bhyasa

Persevering practice is the effort to attain and maintain the state of mental peace.

After I broke up with the ashtanga yoga series as taught by Pattabhi Jois (see sutra 1.12), I was thrown into a crisis of identity. Many years of my life had been ordered around this practice. But I had a deeply confusing experience with the master in India which did not end well. Because of this, I decided that the whole endeavor of yoga was really quite ridiculous. I took up a new practice that seemed more immediately clear and so clearly and immediately more satisfying: smoking.

My new practice was developing even before I left Mother India. First I began looking for some decent tobacco of which none could be found in Mysore. Naturally I got on a train and rode all the way to Bangalore in search of a packet of Drum Tobacco. I never found the holy grail, but made do with some Bali Shag. However, even from the outset there were signs that my new found religion was possibly flawed.

As some of you may know, India is a pretty crowded place. And it can be hot. And sometimes a little dirty. And a bit smelly too. On this particular monsoony day Bangalor was seething. As I desperately dragged myself around searching for my object of desire, I grew harried at the intensity and pulse of humanity and animal. I was being pushed and tugged at and periodically groped by good-natured old guys who thought it amusing to try and squeeze my boobs as I passed by.
"Hey man, all I want is a decent cigarette," I would yell at whoever would listen.
At one point I stopped walking for no reason at all. Thousands of people were living, working, pooping and peeing, selling and begging, working and lounging on the street. In the middle of all this movement I saw a monk I had met several months earlier in a completely different part of India. He was standing there still and totally at home in the ocean of people. We were separated by a wide teeming street clouded with unbelievable pollutants. He raised his hand and waved smiling widely at me and then in a flash was swallowed into the crowd. I wept, but kept looking for that tobacco.

Shortly after that day I left India vowing never to return, or to practice yoga ever again. I dedicated myself to smoking and seething. I felt wretched, but I was committed. After about 9 months of smoking and seething I reluctantly wandered into a yoga studio. There were very few people practicing, and according to the tradition of ashtanga, the teacher was wandering around adjusting, advising and quietly joking with the few students as they did their work on "the series."
I rolled out my mat and began my practice as I had done every day for ten years previous, hoping that perhaps the joy would return. It did not return at all. In fact, I got more and more mad, thinking that my other practice—smoking—was so much more simple and elegant than this convoluted process of asana, pranayama and all that other philosophic crap.
I stopped mid-way through the practice and plopped down in the middle of my mat. The teacher came over, and in a French accent asked me what I was doing.
"Thinking about smoking," I said
He nodded. He smiled. He was French. He understood. I then told him about some of my misadventures in India and to my shock he just laughed and shrugged.
"My practice is ruined. I can never go back!' I moaned.
And then he said in a very particular French way, "Why let old Pattabhi come between you and Yoga?"
He implied, with an impish smile, that I was a stupid fool. When someone speaks a truth that is so clear, even if they are calling you a stupid fool, you can really hear it. This teacher, Baptiste Marceau, spoke simple wisdom that freed me up right then and there. It was funny that these words came from the son of one of the most famously silent people in the world.

Regularity and perseverance in practice is the single most important factor in how to understand what Yoga truly has to offer. But as Desikachar so shrewdly observes in his commentary, that "if the appropriate practice for a particular student is not provided and followed, there can be little hope of achieving success." What I learned from Baptiste Marceau is that I still had the drive to persevere, I simply needed to adjust the nature of my practice. This included contemplating a divorce with the tobacco industry. Soon I was able to start cultivating an ear toward the wisdom of the teacher within, who had been silenced and buried by all the smoke.

My separation with cigarettes was acrimonious but the reunion with yoga has been a lasting and joyful relationship. The cultivation of the proper type of practice for any person's disposition is an on-going study that may require several changes in method and even a change in teacher. But when the practice feels truly right, the potential for a life lived with non-attachment actually seems viable. As much as I wanted to believe it, and as much as the tobacco industry wishes I still believed it, cigarettes never gave me that.

Recall a certain event in your life where someone's words or actions have derailed you from your passion?

Recall a certain event in your life where someone's words or actions brought you back to something you'd loved but abandoned?

What is the difference between a dedicated practice and an addiction?

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