Ignorant Bliss?

Sharath held conference on Thursday evening this week saying he had plans on Saturday. It was hot, the room was packed and a headache creeped up that I still haven’t shaken. He chose a topic that he has spoken about many times before, about what yoga really means and that by consistent practice, it will grow inside of you. He reminded us of the relationship of the Guru and student and that the reason the student doesn’t question the Guru in Indian culture is because all of the answers will come with devotion and practice. In the West, students are constantly questioning the teacher. When we are constantly questioning the teacher, we are not really seeking the answers, but more than likely just externally asking “Why? Why? Why?” to hear ourselves talk. He emphasized that we should focus on what is happening with our own selves and not worry about what others are doing on or off the mat.

After this, he said that he will not longer take questions during conference from the audience to prevent the asking of stupid questions. We can write our questions down and he will review them and decide which ones he will answer. For this I am grateful because so many times the same questions are asked over and over again. For example, “Can you talk about brahmacharya?” ~Saving yourself for you partner, not being promiscuous.
“When how should we meditate?” ~Your practice is your meditation
“How can we find God, or the Supreme Being?” ~God is within you, focus on your practice and you will see.
“What is the most important thing Guruji taught you?” ~Yoga
“What is saucha?” ~Being clean, inside and out.
“Why do we have to do Primary Series before Intermediate?” ~Primary series cleans the internal organs, Intermediate cleans the nervous system.
Over and over again, week after week, I have heard these questions and answers. Many of these answers are in the book Yoga Mala, and if you want to study Ashtanga Yoga, you should also study the book that was written by Guruji.
Sharath also suggested that we all read the book the Bagavad Gita, for it has many lessons that would be good for us to learn.

A few years ago, a friend of mine described the love affair we have with India, as Westerners. We come, we settle in. We appreciate living a less luxurious lifestyle, we love the cows on the street, the colors of the ladies saris, the smell of burning coconuts in the morning and hand washing our clothes. But then, after many weeks of this romance, something happens, it may be that one last mosquito that bites you, that last creepy stare from an Indian boy, that shady rickshaw driver, or that one yoga student that pushes their way to the front of the line in class. Whatever it is, it’s the last straw and the romance is over. We are ready to pack up our things and make our way back home.

This year it seems that SO many students are here for the first time. They lack the etiquette that is possessed by those who are more seasoned. Their attitude is different and they have never seen an India without internet. When I first started coming, the internet was shoddy at best, and we didn’t have personal computers at home or smart phones, we went to the internet cafe to send messages and check emails. Now, you can have internet everywhere, even buy a 4G SIM card for your phone.

In past trips to India, the yoga community was more connected to each other. We knew one another and sat together in restaurants and at the coconut stand, and actually talked to each other. We didn’t have phones that we stared at to isolate ourselves. This culture of “Internet Isolation” I will call it has created a great ignorance amongst the yoga students coming to Mysore today. An older student asked Sharath yesterday to please ask the students to mind their mat space and not let the practice of their postures “spill” onto the person’s mat beside, in front or behind you. I have experience this and it’s feels like you no longer have your own space. The person next to you is out of control and putting their feet or their sweat on your mat as they move through their asanas.

Sharath explained that students who do not respect the space of the people near them are suffering from ignorance. There is a lot of ignorance in those who just want to study asana to have a more flexible body or to do more asanas than others. This, he reminded us is not practicing yoga.

But I wonder, is this ignorance bliss? And should we accept this ignorance from those who are not willing to learn about yoga and are just here for the physical asana practice?

I’d like to believe that all of the students who travel to Mysore are on the path towards becoming a better person, towards living the Yamas and Niyamas and towards making the world a better place for now and for future generations, but sadly that just isn’t the case. This makes me sad, frustrated and disappointed. Which leads me to the mosquito that bit me this morning.

It wasn’t a mosquito, but another “ignorant” student in the Shala that put me over the edge. After a while, you become tired; tired of being pushed and shoved into the Shala on led class days, tired of waiting for a spot to open up for you to practice in, tired of waking up at 4 (or earlier) in the morning to walk to class in the dark, carrying your pepper spray in case some Indian boys decide to drive by on their scooter and grope you, which is happening daily, and tired of being broken down, day after day, on and off the mat.

After your practice, after you do drop backs (deep back bends) with a teacher, you pick up your mat and go to the locker room to do your closing postures, shoulder stand, headstand, padmasana (lotus), and then you can lie down and rest for a few minutes. At times, you may have to wait for a spot in the locker room to open up for you to do this, as was the case today. I walked in, there was no space downstairs or upstairs, another woman walked in and I told her there was no room upstairs either. We waited at the bottom of the stairs. When I say there was no room, there was no room to stand and wait there was no room to move around, nowhere to put your mat, nada, nothing. Another younger woman came in and I informed her of this as well. She pushed her way past me and proceeded to stand/hover on top of two other girls upstairs finishing their practice. I informed her that we were waiting ahead of her and she replied well, “I am just going to stand here and see.”

I took it as rude. Rude to me, rude to the people she was hovering over and rude to the other woman who was in line behind me waiting for a spot. So it got me thinking…is ignorance bliss?
Is pushing and shoving and being rude a blissful place to be? Should we accept this basic type of ignorance from anyone? And what can we do about it, if anything? She was my mosquito, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the reason I will soon be ready to come home. What can I do? I cannot force someone to listen to Sharath’s lectures. As teachers we cannot expect that someone will actually listen to what we have to say or teach. As students, we can only live our best lives and know that no one may be watching. The only thing we can do is focus on ourselves really. We can only become better through self observation and devotion. We can only help the world by doing good and helping those less fortunate.

Sometimes I feel that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. The way animals, people and the environment are treated is disturbing and causing so many problems that we cannot back away from. Why is there so much hatred in this world? Why do people feel they need to say terrible things about races, cultures and religions that are not the same as their own? Why this exclusion? Desperate people everyday are seeking help and we just let them die in the sea as they try to escape war, famine, disease and persecution. Where is the love? Where is the generosity? Where is the acceptance? If we are not practicing yoga to help change all of these things what’s the point?

So I am asking you, is your ignorance bliss? How are you using your yoga practice to make the world we live in a better place? Think about what you do off the mat everyday and ask yourself, “Is this yoga?” It’s a 24/7, 365 practice.

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