Ahoy ahoy mateys… I do believe the last time our paths crossed, I was feeling ridiculously healthy and ‘detoxed, all rarin’ and ready for the New Year to bring da’ ruckus…and if you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen (and even liked and commented) on some of the photos from Koh Mak, Goa and Mysore. I’ll recap events from the past two and a half months or so quickly, with a few photos to boot, but what I really want to dig into is something that’s been on my mind for a good long while: consumer culture and a yogic lifestyle. Just some thoughts and reflections, with a personal challenge to turn these pontifications into positive action.
Koh Mak: As ever, a truly shanti month. We met new yoga friends and got reacquainted with many ‘repeat’ participants. This dynamic of returning folk, along with the assisting/mentoring program in the shala, really provides a sense of community and continuity, which is cool and awesome. One of the trip highlights for me was how well Sesam took to being with all sorts of people. The other highlight was guiding the sunset puja (ritual of praise and worship).
Goa: It’s always a bit of 180 degree turnaround to go from a quiet island in Thailand and into the holiday/hippie/Goa freak/trance music/Mumbai tourist merrymaking scene that makes up North Goa. People may propose that Goa is not the real India, but honey, when the dogs are barking, scooters and buses honking and blaring a terrific racket; when trash piles burn and the heat index is a rising; when children shout happily during their afternoon cricket game…that’s real enough for me! Purple Valley Yoga Center, however, offers a quiet oasis amidst the colorful, hectic and exciting yet-pocketed-with-peaceful-beaches- Goan backdrop, and the warmth and generosity of the Purple Valley staff, not to mention the chance to take a sunset walk with Rolf, was much appreciated. We also arranged a trip with the Purple Valley yogis on Shivaratri to a small cave temple in Chapora.
Mysore: The final leg of the tour. I have a few days of practice left with Sharath in the big shala. Meaning, two more mysore classes (now done) and three led primary. One final chanting session with Lakshmish (our Sanskrit and chanting teacher) and… you know what, I’d better stop counting down and just savor the days. As ever, it’s been quite transformational to practice in the main shala, surrounded by devoted ashtangis, moving through theirtapasya: breathing, bending, twisting, binding, balancing and breathing, breathing. Breathing. Sometimes whole minutes go by in silence, save for the sound of the individual and collective breath, as a new dawn begins in the upper-middle class Brahmin suburb of Gokulam. I won’t speak at length about ‘the practice’ in the shala as it really is something to be experienced and processed for one’s self, but the main impression I am reminded of yet again is one of surrender. Give it up and let it go. It = everything. Phrases one hears so often yet somehow I need to remind myself of it time and time again. Be. Here. Now. Repeat.
Life in Mysore is pretty quiet, comfortable and steady. The days take on a routine and in this way, they pass by. I enjoy waking in the pre-dawn hours to the various sounds of rituals (bells ringing and voices chanting) taking place around me as Brahmin householders conduct their personal prayers to the family ishta devata (chosen deity) before another day of duty, responsibility and action begins. I particularly cherish spending a few moments greeting the morning sun, after practice and before I set about with my own activities for the day.
Amma and Guruji are very much present in the shala
The impressive Shiva statue at Nanjangud
Some asana shots at Melukote temple grounds (thanks Petri for the professional eye!)
Luciana and I hang out under the spot where Petri posed in some advanced asanas a few years back…crazy scary!
Petri in Mayurasana (photo credit, Tom Rosenthal) I’ll upload a better version asap…
Fredrik and I strike funny poses for a bit of rickshaw fun!
Sesam’s first birthday was touching
I gave a bit of help blowing out the candle
Birthday memories from Mysore
The transition of dusk into night at Mysore Palace
Mother and child share a quiet moment as the sun sets
Now onto the second thread of the post: consumer culture and how to navigate it when trying to establish the yamas and niyamas in daily life. In his class on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Lakshmish mentioned that these two limbs (yamas and niyamas) of Ashtanga yoga are the very foundation for living a yogic life, which are implemented into daily living through an individual’s personal attempts. I found this interesting and a bit nebulous at first. After all, what could be considered as ahimsa (non-violence; the first of the five yamas) to one person could differ quite a bit from the next. How does one reconcile each individual perception and understanding of what non-violence looks like? If we take the case of eating meat for example, ahimsa for one could be strict veganism whereas for another, it could mean making sure to eat meat that has been produced in an ethical way, and be willing to pay a bit more money for the real value of well-sourced meat. As I think about it some more, it starts to make sense that yamas and niyamas cannot be anything but a personal navigation towards making morally sound and uplifting personal choices. Otherwise, the danger of dogmatism, social judgment and policing of others can begin to take root. Hence the importance of a guru; one who, by example, leads one from ignorance and towards knowledge. We are all human after all (gurus too!), we all make blunders and mistakes, but recognizing and taking on the positive qualities of a role-model or a person one respects, can be beneficial and inspiring.
At this juncture in my life, the third and fifth yamas are of particular interest to me. These are, respectively, asteya and aparigraha. Definitions of both, as taken from Swami Suryadevananda’sRaja Yoga: A Practical Guide, follow:
Asteya: Avoiding the Unnecessary. Asteya is translated as non-stealing or not taking what is not yours. The yogi sees contentment as essential for cultivating asteya or non-stealing. If I lead a simple life, not wrapped up in competing with others or materiality, the urge to appropriate and possess things legally or illegally will just not be there. When one is caught-up in what is mistakenly called ‘quality of life’—there is loss of quality for the one who lives life. When the ‘what’ becomes important, the ‘how’ can always be justified. The yogi questions all and any ‘what’ that arise and sees clearly if any of it is necessary and thus, stays psychologically disentangled from things. We are never caught-up in many things but in ‘manyness’, which is the passion of the mind. When you avoid the unnecessary, asteya or non-stealing becomes natural. Contentment is the greatest gain not only monetarily but for peace of mind from the raging fires of passion.
Aparigraha: the Absence of Greed. Here again, contentment becomes supremely important. A mind filled with greed or desire to possess is never in balance, always agitated and lacks clarity. The urge to possess does not take into account the needs of others: “I must have…” is felt strongly about things and is selfjustified in many ways. If one lives a life of conservation, greed becomes a non-issue. Without greed or passion, anger has no place. Anger is a response of the mind that is filled with unfulfilled desires—they can even be desires or strong wishes for certain conditions that it feels are important. When the ‘wanting’ is disposed of, greed and covetousness becomes a non-issue. Here, we are talking about any and all types of wanting: for people, things or even conditions. There is still dynamic action but it is free of greed or wanting, and therefore, free of fear, disappointment and anger.
After some introspection and self-reflection, I’ve begun to grapple with and examine more closely my identity as a consumer. Mainly of clothes. More specifically, of spontaneously bought clothes acquired on our travels. Either because it’s unique, ‘green’, organic cotton, never to be found anywhere else, supportive of small and local businesses…whatever, if I am going to be vulnerably honest with you, lately I feel like I buy way too much crap. Perhaps less than many and way more than others, but I’ve been feeling the bottom line: when I acquire stuff in a distracted and casual way, it loses its value. What’s trickier, I have been justifying my purchases by saying that I’m getting ‘investment’ pieces from small, green companies that take sustainability into account. Which is great and I still do stand by the idea of contributing to the cycle of healthy entrepreneurship with companies working to make positive changes and will continue to do so. However! It remains that one cannot buy ‘better’ products to get to the root of the issue, which is, in this context, a feeling of personal, more-entertainment-motivated-than-actual-need-based consumption. Following the Buyerarchy of needs (below) which has been loosely based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, after having exhausted all other options, would I then buy from eco and ‘green’ businesses, whenever possible.
So, I am creating a personal challenge for myself: piggybacking on Sarah Lazanovic’s book and idea, A bunch of pretty things I did not buy, in which she resisted impulsive online shopping for one year (and did the same year-long embargo again some years later), I will challenge myself to resist impulsive shopping (online and otherwise) for one month. Instead, I will take pictures and/or draw the coveted items, which, in my case, are generally clothes. If you would like to follow my progress and view my gallery of beautiful crap I resisted buying, follow me on instagram (@ashtangimami) where I will be posting as the rampant, covetous ‘need’ for possessing beautiful stuff overwhelms and intoxicates me.
As Annie Leonard from The Story of Stuff project clarifies in her interview with Steve Colbert, she is not anti-Stuff. Rather, she is for the reverence and respect for stuff and for greater awareness of all the steps and people involved in getting the aforementiong stuff into our sweaty little paws. Ditto; so, I reserve the right to purchase the following, with reverence 🙂 to get me started:
1. A new notebook and a set of coloring pencils for this insta-feed-scrolling-turned-art project bonanza.
2. Annie Leonard’s book The Story of Stuff (so I am armed with the facts while supporting an organization which I feel is tremendously beneficial and valuable for our time). I first checked to see if the Helsinki library system has a copy. They don’t.
From here on out, I will try my damnedest to cease and desist with spontaneous, impulsive, travel-inspired shopping for the month of April. Wish me luck! It’s going to be tempting in London as my first port of entry, I can already anticipate it, but it would be so sad and humiliating to lose steam right at the start of this self-inflicted project. Next time, I’ll plan it for the month of July when we are on a quiet island in the Finnish archipelago with nothing but Finnish summer living all around. The only tempting purchase in that sort of surrounding are stones for the sauna. But, I digress…anyhoo, if you feel inspired to join in, I would love to see your own doodles from time to time!
Om ❤ and making art is better than shopping!