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Not Perfect in Paradise

It is an interesting fact that the deeper we go in our practice, the more the minute details of our ego identity surface with humbling clarity. Nothing like being alone for a long stretch of time either to notice the patterns repeating, and to stop and observe the parts, as if under a microscope.

I’m trying to understand it. Yoga practice here is sublime. Mornings I practise early on my terrace, cocooned in my cave but open to the deep blue sky as well, with fig leaves and vines overhead. Afternoons I teach at 6 pm, same as at home. But that is where the resemblance ends. After a few false starts for a venue, I’ve settled on the most magical spot you can imagine. In a grove of stately pine trees, we lay our mats out upon a soft bed of fragrant pine needles.
2015-06-23 16.05.55Perched on a cliff just above the sea, about 50 metres from the beach, with the sounds and scents of the sea mingling with the freshness of the pine, we breathe this heavenly air. It’s a bit of a hike away from the village, so numbers are much lower than they were by the swimming pool. But I don’t mind. The dedicated come. Class is only an hour. And meditating afterwards on that spot, with the sun slowly sinking into the sea and the sky a vibrant pink, I really do lose myself into that shimmering transcendence where borders no longer have meaning.

That is until I get up and walk back to my apartment. Sometimes the peace lasts for hours, but usually something interrupts it much sooner. Invariably, sooner or later, I am jarred back into the reality of my conditioning. The ego reasserts itself with renewed vigour.

Something happens. I find myself in a conversation, maybe with the shop girl, maybe a guest. The Italian flows for me and I feel elated. Or the Italian does not flow, the English accent is detected at square one, the person replies to me in English, and I feel annoyed, frustrated and angry all out of proportion.

I am trying to get work done on our apartment. It is an exasperating exercise. The workmen say they are coming so I hurry back to the apartment and wait around for hours, but no show. I think with irritation of all the other things I could have done. This scenario can repeat for days. Then all of a sudden, in a time all of its own, the workmen appear. I might or might not be in. When work actually moves forward, I feel exhilarated; when it is stuck, I feel frustrated and annoyed.

I have also been trying to buy a car, coming up against all kinds of insurmountable impasse. With car purchase ruled out, a plan for “private rental” emerged with a local Italian. That too is looking unlikely, with astronomical insurance costs being the barrier. Meanwhile, I am without transportation. This village is very, very rural. Basic amenities are here so I can survive. But I’ve no free movement on my own four wheels, a restriction that stirs my American conditioning into disbelief and indignant protest. 2014-09-25 09.21.06I’ve started to walk to the neighbouring village (45 minutes along the sea cliffs) where there is a local market every Thursday morning and a large supermarket. However, my purchases are always limited to what I can carry home on my back.

Wifi connection is limited and weak. My phone has reception only when the wind blows a certain way, and then only one bar. None of this technology works in my apartment itself, though the sea sings in the distance and the birds chirp every morning. I wash out my clothes by hand. I sweep the tile floor. I make my bed with flat sheets, the way my mother taught me when I was a little girl, before the advent of fitted sheets. The simplicity of this life has its charms, but sometimes I just want to get things done, and fast. Fast is not a concept here.

These are some of the relatively trivial things that mar my peace. It is shocking how things so insignificant can press my buttons in just the right way to shatter the equanimity of hours of practice. The pattern is clear. When the universe unfolds according to my desires, I am happy. When not, I am annoyed and frustrated. I watch the changes in my mood, which are sudden and dramatic.

I know that everything experienced through the body belongs to duality, and because of that is in constant flux. I understand that everything eventually turns into its opposite. But I do have my preferences, and like a flower turning to the sun, I cleave to my agenda. For a week the sea is as smooth as glass. Swimming is divine.2014-09-25 09.15.39 Then suddenly the wind stirs it into agitation, and surfers are riding the waves. Exhilaration for the surfers! But my surfing days ended at the age of 13, and reluctant to brave the waves again after a 50-year hiatus, I long for a return of those placid waters.

But other things of a more serious nature disturb my equanimity. My 89-year old mother had knee replacement surgery last week, and her cardiovascular health is fragile. My youngest sister has been with her throughout, and for that I am most grateful. But where am I, the eldest daughter? Sunning myself on a Sardinian beach, practising yoga in a pine forest, dancing the salsa poolside. The karmic forces that brought me to this place 6000 miles away from my mother are quite clear. On the one hand, I understand how it could not be otherwise; but on the other I feel like a most undutiful daughter.

The American poet, Marianne Moore, said, “The cure for loneliness is solitude.” Solitude is one thing I have plenty of here, and I must say, though I often feel annoyed and frustrated, I do not feel lonely. I do not long for the presence of anyone, and feel content watching the human drama play out against the rhythms of night and day. Solitude takes us deep into the layers of who we are, peeling them back like the skins of an onion. 2015-06-23 16.59.46I dip into the bliss of practice, or bliss comes direct from the sea or sky. Contentment fills me to the core. Then in daily life, I notice my reaction to things, and observe how so often it is a resistance to the way things are in the moment.

But once the scene–whatever it may be–comes to its natural conclusion and I can step aside from my role in it, a certain grace descends. It brings me to the deeper understanding. All parts of the scene, including my role in it, have an inevitability. And it is all profoundly OK. My resistance, my desires, my attachment to speed and efficiency, to details and introspection: all that belongs to the way things are. All is part of the moment, which is not separate from the seamless web of experience that stretches infinitely across time and space. And to say that a part of this web is “mine” is merely the delusion of separateness, called maya, and the convention of language.

It is a big giant step to include all that. But it can happen. And therein lies the real liberation, the real peace. Contentment that comes from deep practice is easy. However, it is the contentment that is not dependent upon anything, the contentment that can encompass all the warts, that is the true contentment. Yoga tradition calls it santosha, one of the nyamas. Ramesh expressed it in this beautiful prayer: “Oh Lord grant me that state of mind so full of your being that I would not need anything from anyone anymore, not even You.”

2015-06-27 08.57.23So life is not perfect for me, even in this paradise of land and sea and sun, if by perfect we mean all events in alignment with my desire. But if we mean that everything is as it should be, and I can rest in that understanding, then this paradise is indeed perfect. But so is everywhere, dear friends, including wherever you may be now! May the wonder of that fact bring to you now the fullness of santosha.

Om Shanti

4 thoughts on “Not Perfect in Paradise”

  1. Marianne – you have such a gifted way with words. I am there with you under the Sardinian sun, love your honesty.
    Heart felt. xxxx

  2. Hi Marianne, Thank you for being so honest about “perfection in paradise”. The beauty of it all is that we are constantly being tested and those tests show us how deeply wellbeing or YOGA is really established within ourselves.

    As we all know from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the last 4 limbs of Ashtanga yoga are pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Unfortunately most of us mainly practice the first 4 limbs and barely give the same commitment to 4 mentioned above.

    In my experience asana and pranayama gave me physical health and vitality, it was the last 4 limbs that really gave me the experience of total heart centered happiness & wellbeing.

    Having a good technique and practicing dhyana sadhana definitely brought me the happiness I was seeking, but it was not lasting no matter how much I meditated. It was when I asked “WHY?”, that I realized that throughout my entire life, it was my inner voice that was constantly offering me advice on what I needed to do to be happier.

    It was when I radically changed my behavior to follow what my inner voice was recommending rather than just listening to IT that the final break through to permanent peace and wellbeing was made.

    So you “Heart Knows the Way”…

    Jai Sat Chit Ananda


    1. Then the question arises: Who is that inner voice? Who is the “me” who listens? Who is the “me” who claims to have authored the action in response? Upon deep investigation, any semblance of a “me” dissolves, revealed as the chimera it always was. From that the deeper happiness flows, the happiness that is not dependent upon the flow of life, but rests in the boundless being of pure consciousness.
      It is indeed the higher practices of yoga, the continuum of samyama, which can lead to a breakthrough. Patanjali explains it very methodically.
      Thank you for sharing your experience, Jaananda. What we metaphorically refer to as the heart can so often point out the way. Om shanti xx

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