Ashley Green tells us a story based on her experiences in Rishikesh where she did her yoga teacher training.
Nearing the end of her journey in the place, the girl knew that the last time she would see Swami would be joyful, poignant and bitter-sweet. They had spent a month together, the group of people, bound to each other by Swami, experience, monsoon rains, ineffable learning and love. The bindings would soon stretch across the globe, connecting them all when they returned back to their countries, but these bindings would be unseen. They would be memories drifting through the air like white feathers, delicately landing on clouds of passing thoughts.
The circle formed with content, stretching bodies, chipped mugs of sweet tea in the hands of some as others lazily collected burgundy, well worn bolster cushions from the unsteady wooden shelf. Familiar voices quietly peppered the muggy breeze that sailed slowly into the room through the open doors, as dusk settled peacefully over the village.
As always, Swami’s glow, soft but certain, filled the space with warmth as he walked in, almost with childlike joy and a shyness coupled with an aura from centuries gone by. The familiarity of his bright orange clothes comforted the girl and the feeling reminded her of the one she used to have when her Papa would be waiting for her at the doors at the end of the school day when she was a child. She had noticed the shine of Swami’s skin from the first day she met him, and she was glad when one of the more outspoken girls had asked him why his face shone like it did. He simply smiled and replied, “Love and devotion”.
Swami took his place in the circle and greeted everyone individually with the girl’s favorite Sanskrit word, “Namaste”. Her heart grew a little heavier as she watched Swami; tomorrow she would leave the place and may never see him again. At least not in this life. Tears warmed her eyes as she shifted her gaze to the simple white candle that sat in the middle of the circle on a silver plate surrounded with fresh, orange marigolds and pink petals. After asking about the previous classes and acknowledging their last day together, the energy changed as the ever-smiling Swami then sat silently, showing the group he was ready to start his story.
“As each one of you arrived here, divine beings from across the globe, you entered this little place with some belongings, taken from your modern lives. You kissed family and friends goodbye before embracing the journey of what was to come. I watched you all from my chair on the roof, as the cars dropped you at the gate. Oh, how I laughed as you pulled cases with wheels over the broken path, with it’s holes filled with rain water. I watched your faces as you waited for the old cow to decide to move out of your way on the path and as the running monkeys pulled at your scarves. I felt such happiness to watch you walk through the doors below, faces shining with a film of humid air and uncertainty, whilst I knew – with certainty, you would walk out in a different way entirely. What joy!” “You came here with a small portion of your material possessions and everything else the world has given you. Your names, experiences, troubles, race, citizenship, culture, religion…the list goes on. All of these things are wonderful! What gifts! Close your eyes and revel in your you-ness!”
“So, my story begins here, where you are sitting. A man came here once. We spent many hours together sharing stories from our lives. He was a financially wealthy man who had much success which enabled him to buy houses across the world, supercars in each of the driveways. He had a famous wife, followers in abundance and people who wanted to listen to him every time he opened his mouth. He lived in a wealthy country and his passport could take him travelling with ease. His country had good healthcare, gyms and clubs. He could practice his religion freely and he volunteered at the place of worship. He had opportunities to learn throughout his life and to try different things. He had learned archery, psychology, painting and had qualifications in finance and business from a university who asked him to teach the students. He published a book on the subjects he taught at the university. He had run in marathons and cycled in races; he was very confident of his athleticism.
But the man had come here – to find himself in this place. The man cried in this very room to me. He told me he wanted more from life and was not happy. So, I asked him one very simple question – “Who are you?” He laughed and told me his name. “You know who I am, we have been talking together for months!” he exclaimed, and we laughed together then. “Without your name, who are you then?” I asked. The man’s eyes shifted to the side, ever so slightly, as he pondered. “Well, I’m a financier, a business owner.” “So, without the title of financier, and without your business, who are you then?” I asked gently. The man’s eyes creased at the corners and twinkled. “I know where you are going with this!” he laughed heartily, “Without my wife, I would no longer be a husband, just a man. The same goes for my following; without them, I am still the same person.” The creases had gone now. “If I take away my title of teacher at the university, I am still a teacher. If I don’t call myself an author, I still write to share parts of me. Teaching others is a good thing, isn’t that what you do Swamiji?” I smiled at him politely. “I, am but a humble mirror,” I told him gently, although this confused him somewhat. I paused for some time before continuing, “Yes, you are a teacher. You take what you know and share it with others. But what of it? Does this make you who you are?” The man’s previous arrogance had subsided, and the cogs took motion is his mind with a quiet whir. “Ok. I am religious. I visit the place of worship often; I connect spiritually through my religion.” The man looked more confident again. “And that is beautiful. Tell me, how did you come by that religion? From birth? There are many religions, many ways to connect to the divine and to the self. Think of it like this; we all want to cross the river to reach the other side. One being chooses a boat. Another swims whilst someone else crosses a bridge – they are all going to the same destination, but how they travel varies. The many religions are the different ways to travel to the same place. Indulge me and consider this – if you removed religion from your life, who are you then?”
The man looked very deep in thought now as a soft blanket of realization began to envelop his rounding shoulders and hood his downturned head. Some time passed as we sat together in a comfortable silence whilst the rustling leaves outside served only to remind us there was a world outside the candlelit room. “There are some things I am certain of,” started the man, barely above a whisper, “I know that I am kind. That I try to be of service. I am so grateful for all that I have, I find kindness in my heart to be of service to others in my life.” “Yes.” I offered simply. “The other thing I am certain of, is death.” The man looked straight at me and my eyes locked with his, the energy almost tangible. “And if death comes to you, and your physical body dies here, now – who are you then?” The man looked like he had just opened his eyes for the very first time. “A soul.” he said as a solitary tear ran down the man’s aging cheek and landed in the upturned corner of his mouth. Acceptance washed over his whole body like a beautiful, cascading waterfall and the man felt free.”
Swami’s eyes seemed to be filled with particles of other worldly light, not natural to this earth, as he finished his story. The group sat like a ring of ancient, noble statues as if frozen in time by the magical energy in the room, where the very story had taken place. “Mind BLOWN!” shouted a normally introverted Canadian man and the circle erupted into joyous laughter, with Swami’s childlike giggle filling the air above it all. “You see Dear Ones,” he began once the raucous had subsided, “It doesn’t matter where you are, or what the world has imprinted on you while you take your place on the earth in this time and space, your being is ‘you’, and that is divine. What does our friend death teach us? When the body dies, you are a soul. A spirit, a memory that lives on in love. That soul is who you are. Find that, and you find “I”. “
After some time and emotional goodbyes, the circle lessened until only the girl was left in the room with Swami. “Oh, Dear One, how I have enjoyed you being here with me.” He said to her, his eyes shining like a mirror in sunlight. All she could muster was a tight hug, her face pressed into the warm orange cotton of his shoulder as emotion sat in her throat before welling up and running silently from her eyes. A moment passed and she shyly stepped back, hands joined in front of her heart center, delving into his kind eyes and said, “Thank you, Swami Ji, for the lessons.” He reciprocated with his joined hands and with the brightest smile replied, “Dear One, I did not teach you; I merely reflected back to you, what you already know. Namaste.”
Written by: Ashley Green.
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