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. 

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