Sunday, December 22, 2013

More dispatches from Mysore: Patrick sensei, or, Concerning Authorization Redux

Right.  So, I received Authorization Level 2 with permission to teach the full intermediate series on this trip.  After four weeks of hoping I'd be tapped unsolicited, as it were, and months of gentle but insistent prodding from Kino and Tim, I finally broke down and went into the office to ask.  The whole thing played out as a series of anticlimaxes...

Some students here are quite comfortable talking to Sharath.  They can just go into his office and hang out, asking him about this and that, and what they can do to make their asana practice better.  Me, I wouldn't want to approach him to trouble him with my issues if he were watering his lawn and I were on fire.  This is out of respect, mind you, not contempt or fear.  Maybe some fear.  There are pros and cons to each of these ways of being.  On one hand, as my mother-in-law might say: no llora, no mama (the baby who doesn't cry doesn't suckle).  It's good to be clear about your wants and needs and to be proactive about getting them met.  On the other hand, there's the perspective that spans cultures in which the teacher (priest, sifu, rabbi, imam, etc.), while, yes, ultimately being just a person, is on a different level than the student.  If not above (always risky), he or she is at least apart.  In a life-long undertaking involving great transformation, trust, etc., why would you want to commit yourself to an ordinary schmoe for a teacher?  This the vibe with which I'm in tune, for better or for worse.

That said, imagine my discomfort and aversion to inquiring about such a Big Thing as authorization.  I think what finally got up my guff enough to go in, the straw the broke the camel's back, was when my friend and colleague Daylene received her authorization during my third week here, give or take.  At that point I was pretty well aware that I wouldn't be denied if I asked,  and Day's having gone first broke something in me.  I just wanted to get it over with.  The first day I went up to his office was a Thursday, and it unfortunately coincided with a massive influx of new students.  A shift change, if you will.  I had to make an appointment.  That Monday was a moon day, so the earliest I could get in would be Tuesday.  I felt like Frank Pentangeli being forced to wait to see the Don.  So Tuesday came.  I put on my formal wear, which means jeans and knit shirt, and went in.  I began by thanking him for his patience with my practice in the previous weeks, my pesky shoulder thing was forcing me to modify and take various short cuts.  Then, I started in on pleading my case:

Me: Sir (I try not to address Sharath directly if I can help it, and when I do I just call him sir), as I think you know,  I run a Mysore program for Kino and Tim in Miami and I've come to ask for your blessing to teach.  I want you to know I will honor the lin--
Sharath: How many trips you make here?
Me: This is my fourth trip, sir.
Sharath:  Mmm.  Take that form from the printer and fill it out.
Me:  Yes sir.  Thank you, sir.

I filled out the form and brought it back.  He wrote down how much it would cost on a post-it and gave it to me, and assured me there was no rush on the payment.  Then I touched his feet and cut out. And that was that.  There was no pricking a drop of blood out of my finger, or letting an image of the Virgin Mary burn in my hand, no cigars were passed out.  Later, when I got the money together, I thought there might be a photo-op with Sharath, Tim, Kino, and me and the authorization paper.  But no, payment first before the paper gets made, so that didn't happen.  And then, when I went to pick up the authorization certificate, Sharath wasn't around.  Honestly, it's just as well there was no hoo-ha as far as I'm concerned.  Not my style.

Just to be clear, though, despite the low key way things went down I am enormously relieved and satisfied.  This marks the achievement of a goal which was very very far off when I first started all this Ashtanga yoga business.  Much work and sacrifice was involved.  It settled in a few days later at lunch with my new, but now very close friend, Barry.  Barry has been living in Tokyo for the past seven years running a Mysore program there.  We bumped into some Japanese women he knew and he introduced me as Patrick sensei.  I would have bashfully shirked that before, but I just accepted it now.  Patrick sensei.  Teacher Patrick.  One door closes, another opens.  Time to step up.  Time to honor the title and keep doing my best to be true.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dispatches from Mysore: stages of the experience

Practice-wise, at least, there are several stages in the Mysore experience.  They comprise an arch, if you will.  In the beginning, in the first week, all cylinders fire.  You are doing primary series, chances are your start time is at least around 8am, and due to jet lag, you are getting up around 1 or 2 am.  You've been up and on your feet for several hours, doing an easier practice, and your mind is saying "Fuck yeah!!! Fuckin Mysore, man!!! So happy to be back after all the preparations and I'm seeing all the stuff I remember I love about this place!!!!"  So there's that.

Then, some obstacles arrive.  Maybe it's the first led primary class, which is something of a chore.  If you do it, the first led intermediate class is something of a gut punch.  From the second week on, you are in your regular Mysore practice, i.e., the postures that Sharath has given you.  If you're lucky enough to have either started with Sharath or to have come at least five or six times (neither are the case for me), then your regular practice will be quite similar to your home practice.  If not, it can quickly devolve into a brutal waiting and guessing game: so how far am I going this trip, anyway?  Exacerbating this is the fact that Sharath, contrary to many ignorant writings about our thing, has different standards for people.  I've mentioned this before, I think, but it bears repeating that the "why is Johnny on pose C when I'm stuck here in pose A and I'm way stronger, more flexible, more respectful of the lineage, etc?" mindset can come up.  There is potential to make your trip a real bummer if you play these games with yourself.  Don't.  Keep your eyes on your mat as best as you can.

At some point, the body breaks in one way or another.  Maybe an injury resurfaces, maybe food poisoning (ranging from mild to hospitalization-worthy), maybe a simple case of the flu will come.  I actually got the trifecta on this trip, including persistent allergies.  The flu was pretty bad, but the stomach issues mercifully weren't too bad.  If you're like me, and very eager to please your teacher, these somatic issues can open a different can of worms: the one in which guilt at not giving one's all arises.  If this is happening, I recommend seeing Sharath during his office hours.  He may be attentive, he may be distracted, but at least he'll know why you aren't binding in this or that posture, or not doing all your jump-throughs, or whatever.

Finally, hopefully, settling happens.  No more hand-wringing, and you practice like you do at home.   It's great, really. Due to my family circumstances and my allergies I can't imagine staying here for more than six weeks.  But this is the argument for staying as long as possible.  The more you can be here practicing in your settled state, so much the better for going deeper.  Like an experienced meditator, I suppose, the more often you come the quicker you can get yourself into the settled state and really grow.  My last two trips I didn't really get there, but this time I did.  

I find myself in a state of true ambivalence.  To be sure, having reached the settled state is a big accomplishment for me.  I wouldn't mind riding it out a little longer.  But, I'm fucking fed up with my nose running all the time, my palate is well saturated with the flavors of South Indian cuisine, and worst of all, I miss my wife desperately.  I am coming home in six days, transformed again, and most eager to share what I've learned and integrated.