Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Practice Trajectory: Ordinary, Extraordinary, Everyday... Pt. 9

"I want to live where soul meets body
And let the sun wrap its arms around me
And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing
And feel, feel what its like to be new" 

'Soul Meets Body" Death Cab for Cutie

I knew that dipping more deeply into yoga on my first trip to India prepared me well for my mother's death. I definitely banked on the wisdom of showing up for practice even if you felt sick or otherwise-less-than-perfect that Pattabhi Jois so embodied in his life. And I took note of the experience of meeting an incredibly calm, cave-dwelling saddhu who washed his alter while chanting mantras in any kind of weather or condition, solo or with others, but I was still missing some clues about how to integrate these peak experiences with the everyday task of fueling my everyday activities now that I was back in the US. I wasn't one of those practitioners who was ready to chuck it all and live abroad. California, for whatever reason, kept calling me back. 
But now that both of my parents were gone, what was I really doing and why was I in the Bay Area?  I was still struggling with everyday faith. Both parents deaths had put a big dent in any trust I might have had for Catholicism. Yoga practice was a thread I could follow. The studio was refuge as much as work!  But the kind of faith that got you to work on time, make your meals and meet new people... I moved to San Francisco ready to take on my creative life that much more and found myself struggling with fear and anxiety. Darn. 
I couldn't run from my grief however 'happening' I was trying to be. 
Traditionally, chanting has been a huge component of yoga practice but I'd failed to see much beyond the the Ashtanga mantra, the opening prayer for Ashtanga practice, that I learned and enjoyed reciting before starting asana. However, the  Ashtanga mantra is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how chanting, or mantra, is historically taught alongside yoga. But partly because learning traditional chants wasn't a part of most Western teacher's training, and mostly because I didn't find the Hindu chants I'd heard beyond the Ashtanga mantra that accessible or personally resonant, I'd completely neglected the benefits of chanting to keep my asana practice grounded and focused on the divine. (I now see my increased focus on singing in those years as a natural result of my developing yoga practice. Sound vibration just makes you feel better, period. But I didn't put that together then.)
Of course, where and how one finds divinity was the rub. If I didn't trust my Catholic roots and didn't feel connected to the Hindu mantras commonly associated with the yoga practice I'd taken on, where was I? 
A bit lost in my grief and confusion. 
But amid all my blundering, I serendipitously kept being given clues about resources: my first producer had a Buddhist chanting practice, as did two artist friends whose ear I often sought out amid my confusion. All of them encouraged me to try chanting.   I, thinking myself wise, assured them I already had a practice. 
But after a couple of months of having 'what I wanted,'  lots of freedom for my art,  and moving to the city to find it as challenging as enervating, my anxiety was trumping most of my creativity. 
'Why don't you chant to be calm,' my artist friend advised, teaching me to say Nam-Myho-Renge-Kyo over the phone. And because, clearly, a lot of what I was doing wasn't working, and because she reminded me that it was a practice founded on a belief so different than Catholicism: everyone — men, women, birds and animals — are divine as they are now, in this lifetime, I turned to it. And lo, I felt calmer. Suddenly the feeling of freedom and wide lens on life that yoga practice had given me had a handle. I could see the ground a little more clearly to notice how better to proceed, rather than blustering my way past my fears and anxieties. I felt that much more like a spiritual mutt —my path to peace wasn't what I expected— but there was no question that adding chanting to my practice plate was helping me see a life beyond the acute loss of the proceeding years....

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