The past two or so months has been a time of flux, new experiences and varied challenges. I moved continent and uprooted my comfortable cottage on scenic farmlands, swopping it for a dinky apartment in a frenzied European city. In many way ways I still yearn for the wildly flung blue skies of African wilderness, and something tells me I will never be rid of this yearning as long as I am absent from my homeland. In spite of this I have tried to immerse myself in the present, taking deep gulps of car-fumed-full air and elbowing my way through crowds of gawking American tourists with jolly gusto.
This kind of abrupt, radical life change tends to destabilise one’s sense of self. For instance, two weekends ago I was standing in the midst of a throng of people on a ferry crossing. It was a Saturday late afternoon and I had just been to visit the Amsterdam Eye Museum to view an outstanding Martin Scorsese exhibition. Rooted on my two feet and holding my bicycle steady beside me, I suddenly became vividly aware of myself as part of this present, and it shocked me. The din of chatter, bicycle clatter and ferry engines was incomprehensibly invasive, and I could not stand it. I could not believe that this body - these feet and these hands on the dirty rubber bicycle handlebars - was here, in this madness, and by choice. I was hit by a wave of remorse, like meeting a close friend or relative after months of absence to find they’ve been disfigured or injured and you missed it all, you weren’t there to support them, and if possible, prevent things from getting this bad.
This experience has played on my mind, and I see it as contingent to a feeling of consistent exhaustion. I run an online yoga startup (which is expanding and challenging me everyday here in the tech-start up capital of the EU), I am writing a novel, and I teach yoga. In my own practice of yoga, I have felt that my body is fatigued, rigid and sore a lot of the time. By the end of each week since arriving in Amsterdam, I have felt adrift in a haze of fatigue. Given that I deal with other yoga instructors daily, invest in the yoga industry and feel this totally unenergised heaviness in my body and mind, I have been questioning what is my integral and authentic contribution as a yoga instructor whilst I go through these experiences?
My intuition is that a facade of calm and flexible poise is not helpful. Not only is it likely to add to my own existential disconnect, it’s just false, and perpetuates the worst of the pretentious ‘yogi lifestyle’ culture that has no authentic correspondence to ‘real’ people with ‘real’ bodies and ‘real’ issues.
On pondering this, I randomly came across a quote from William Butler Yeats:
"We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us, that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet."
It is well known that Yeats was interested in Hinduism and throughout much of his fascinating and illustrious career, cultivated his spirituality as a backdrop to his literary and leftist political pursuits. These words lead me to reflect on how, contrary to the general circumstance of discombobulation, my daily practice of meditation had strengthened and changed over the past few challenging months. This has occurred in interesting ways.
The pointed concentration on one thing - say your breath, a mantra, or an object - of meditation has been unsuccessful for me. I am used to meditating in this way. Yet, with so much to plan and think about in a general state of sensory over-stimulation, I’m not very ‘concentrated'; I just have so many thoughts colliding all the time. So instead, I have been observing thought patterns as they arise. This dedicated observation without interference of the mind is, simply put, an experience in mindful meditation. This has been successful for me; a 30minute daily refuge and a consistent feature of my waking routine. The rest of the day is a circus of mishaps and humbling newness, but this time - this 30minutes every early morning when the streets are uniquely and gloriously quiet - is my refuge.
I see now that the flash of remorse in observing myself in the midst of chaos on the ferry crossing was a moment of profound mindfulness. Being this experience of quiet and still self-reflection - and breathing in this being - is the most appropriate message and guidance I can provide as a yoga practitioner. The lesson I draw from it is that in that moment I should not have judged myself. The horror I felt at the image of my tired, crumpled and off-centre ‘emigre’ self was an reaction of self-inflicted prejudice. The lesson I draw is that in these times of mindful observation, the key is to not judge, to just be, in knowledge - and quiet determination - that the weirdness you feel is transitory.