Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mysore: Change, in rupees & otherwise

When it comes to making small change, a standard practice of local businesses around Gokulam is changing up what kind of change you'll get back. Sometimes you get a little paper voucher with a stamp and the number of credit you can use on your next visit. Sometimes you are handed a few pieces of candy or gum with a smile. Even if you get your exact change back in rupees, it might be the same amount in the form of a coin, several coins or a paper bill. Sometimes, you don't get any change 'due' unless you ask.
One thing that is constant about coming to Mysore, in general, whether you consciously know it or not, is that you are asking for change. If you practice here, transformation will definitely occur, inside, and sometimes, outside. And nothing is ever the same twice be it experience of asana, the hour, day or week.  'First-timers' and old-guard Mysorians learn this within a week of arrival and again each time they come. When I landed nearly 7 weeks ago, my first thought was 'oh, it's like I never left'. But even as everything I was doing—the routine of registering at the shala, start times, coconut trucks, and chai stands, the poses in the Ashtanga series themselves— was now familiar, I was a slightly different person at a different point in time, with a different set of conscious and unconscious expectations of myself, my practice and this place, in a city that itself had changed in the 9 months I'd been away.
All around, new businesses (including mega-malls) had sprung up, foreign cars were more common and the price of coconuts and chai had risen several rupees. I unpacked a trunk of items stored from last year while buying new items for a basically unfurnished rental.  A glorious week and half of blissful practice (so good to be back! how deep I can breath! how much deeper I can bend here!) was followed by a week when my knee all but completely went out.  Suddenly I had to modify 'basic' postures I've done for years while simultaneously being given new poses to learn, my conditioned brain both fighting the contradictions and welcoming them at the same time.
The experience on the mat mirrored by my life. One week, I waved goodbye to a set of house-mates, a day later, welcomed a new one. And of course, around me, the hundreds of other students were dealing with their own sets of circumstances or becoming part of one another's circumstances. When it all got a bit noisy, I checked out for a week of Panchakarma, had a week of clarity ... followed by a week of lethargy and more internal questioning.  Even playing it all a bit closer to home instead of taking classes or lessons or going to every social activity there was,  it's been intense. Confusion has been mixed with curiosity, delight at the new mixed with a sense of missing.
One thing that is constant about Ashtanga as taught here, as that you are doing one or two of one of the series of asanas. Each series is specific. There is no variation in sequence unless you have unique circumstances — acute illness, injury or pregnancy for example. And if you've signed on, you know that the real fruit of the practice comes from regular practice. It's a system and a science. But there is an infinite variety of relationships people have to the series they are practicing and to the asanas within those series,' and the teacher. 
This go, amid the ups and downs of my practice, I often felt stuck amid all the movement. So earlier this week I did what I pretty much never do, and went and talked to my teacher, trying to figure out how to pack all my questioning into a question one might answer.  Uncertain, knowing on one level the answer I'd get (do your practice), but wanting to ask instead of assume, I queued up to have a minute or two with Sharath.
Sure enough, the answer I got, indeed a version of the 'standard'  do your practice, managed to combine exact and inexact change. That is, it was slightly unique enough to feel personal and reverberate into considerations about every aspect of my life, not just asana, be consistent with all of I've learned from practice and shed new light on it.
"Ah, yes," another practitioner opined "you can find yourself digesting what he says for a few weeks." Likewise, there were a lot of lessons to be had in the simple act of asking.  Change, I got some...and I likely have more coming.   ...

On the listening front, it's no wonder one of my favorite tunes of the moment is the new single by Kathleen Edwards:

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