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Seven Winds is a State of Mind

2016-07-17 14.55.29According to the South Indian calendar, on 15 July we entered Dakshinayana, the dark half of the year. You probably did not feel it. I sure didn’t. It was the height of summer here in California, many days up to 40°C or more, with balmy evenings and the scent of jasmine wafting heavenly on the night air. But beneath the surface, things were shifting, as they always do. They were shifting big time for me. But only now, at the end of August, have the threads come together.

Last month, I booked a flight to Dublin, and then forgot about it. But now that time is approaching. Over these past six months (Yes, it has been that long!) my life has turned back on itself, returning to places and people, to anxieties, joys and frustrations that I have not known in a long time. Anything “unfinished” will stay that way, because once I leave I’ll be catapulted back to my former life, the piquancy of feeling I have now soon to be overlaid and diffused by whatever lies ahead.

Here in Northern California, skies are hazy from smoke drifting in from the fires raging in other parts of the state. The temperatures are still relatively high, 27° to 35°C where I am in the East Bay Area, and will remain that way most likely well into October. However, summer feels over. Dakshinayana–with all its lessons of closure, retreat, inwardness, contraction, evanescence and stillness–has taken hold.

2016-05-09 18.12.56Light has a thinness about it. Something about the angle of the sun in the sky casts an obliqueness: so ethereal, so poignant, so evocative, so charged with the truth of ephemerality that you either run away with denial into the busyness of the day to day or sit poised upon that still point of inward quietude that knows no change or (and this is often the case for me) find the tears flowing down your cheeks at the slightest provocation.

Autumn is in the air. Back to school time has commenced. One of my nephews has just gone to the East Coast to college. All the other nieces and nephews are starting up in their various schools. Most schools here, strangely, start up in mid-August. It was never that way in my day. But change–as we all know–is the only constant. For me in particular, back to school time has always signified new beginnings.

I used to be a schoolteacher, teaching English in a high school right down the road from where I am sitting now. My colleagues and I used to laugh at the way the summer and the weekend had similar shapes. The length of the phases was quite different, but the quality identical. School finished mid-June, and the rest of June was like Friday night, a feeling of relief where possibilities felt endless. July was like Saturday, the past week fading and the next one still far enough off not to bother. August, however, was like Sunday, when time started closing in sharply, and late August was like Sunday night. You counted the hours left, usually coming up short with all you had still to do before the reckoning time. School would start up again and you had to face it, ready or not.

For the past 16 years, I’ve spent late August organising the autumn term at Seven Winds Yoga, but this year it is not happening. I want to tell you why, and particularly to say to my dear students, both long-term and new, how much I will miss all of you!!! (Now it’s those tears that want to flow . . . )

2016-07-17 14.55.24Nearly every night these past six months I’ve been sleeping outside on an air mattress on my parents’ balcony, close to the moon and the stars. I packed to come here for the spring, but ended up staying until the end of the summer. Though most of my clothes are still in Ireland or Sardinia, I have not missed them much. In fact, I could do fine with even less, and the prospect of greater and greater simplicity intrigues me. Something of the vagabond in me has been awakened.

Meanwhile, my dad is totally bedridden, drifting in and out of sleep, mostly incoherent when awake but sometimes with a few lucid words. The disease has brought him to an extremely low level of functionality, both physical and mental. But his heart is strong, his will to live tenacious. His hospice nurse does not know how much longer he has. No one does. I feel so torn about leaving at this point, but I do need to go. Commitments are drawing me back to Europe. But at the same time, I need to remain light, poised and ready to spring at any moment. Committing to a full term of classes does not feel possible to me at this time.

But that is not the whole story. (These things are rarely simple.) Since I’ve been here, I’ve done a number of Jyotish readings by Skype. To my great surprise, I find the medium (Skype) really powerful, something about viewing each other on the screen and being joined by a tenuous technological thread gives the reading an intensity that I did not expect. All depends on having excellent wifi of course. But it is something I definitely want to develop. It is a direction I want my work to take, because the wisdom of Jyotish has so much to offer all of us who strive to navigate our way through time and space with greater awareness.

Being in California has also taken me to the “cutting edge” of the yoga world today. This is really the subject of a separate blog article, so I’ll only skim the highlights. Yoga studios are everywhere here! Every block in San Francisco has a yoga studio, every town, no matter how small, seems to have at least one as well. Everyone is “going to yoga”, but unfortunately, way too many have no clue what yoga is really about. Of course there are plenty of remarkable, extraordinary exceptions. I’ve met genuine yogis here, who have inspired me profoundly. (In all things, the USA is a land of extremes. Here you find the best and the worst of just about everything!) But the trends I observe tell me that yoga is moving further and further from its roots. On the one hand, whatever is happening has a cosmic necessity and I feel at peace with it because of that. But on the other hand, my heart feels called to action, to write more, to teach in a deeper way, to go deeper in my own practice and then teach from that place with more authenticity.

2016-07-17 14.55.28-2My retreat to Puglia I hope will be the beginning of more retreats, more workshops and longer trainings, because it is in the context of full immersion that I feel inspired to work. A few possibilities are definitely in the wings for the future, so I’ll see how that unfolds in time.

It has always been true for me that teaching has had to come from my own experience, from the truth of my personal practice. Whenever that alignment gets off for me, I feel disturbed, disingenuous, and something has to shift to recreate that lost accord. It happened both when I was beginning to practise Ashtanga long ago and when my Ashtanga practice was metamorphosing into something else about five years ago. It is happening again now.

Since I’ve come back from the teacher-training course with Srivatsa Ramaswami, I’ve been hanging onto my “formal” practice with a feeble thread. I practise every day, with no regular “days off”, because too often circumstances conspire to create random “days off” for me, against my will but unavoidable. Though some days I have time for the full shebang–long asana, pranayama, meditation–too often the practice gets foreshortened. I practise outside on the second balcony, not where I sleep but the other one outside the library where my dad lies in his hospital bed and caregivers tend him 24-7. The whole thing can feel a bit surreal, a bit absurd, but the practices do help me with the rest of my day, which has so much of the karma yoga about it.

2016-07-17 14.55.32Once in awhile, the opportunity to practise in natural settings arises, and that ignites me like rocket fuel; it is intense and profound. I want to experience more of that and to understand better how to harness the elemental with the tools of yoga.

When I return to Ireland on 6 September I won’t be staying long. On 20 September I leave for Sardinia, where there is much I need to attend to in our apartment, but where I can have my own private retreat—long hours of undisturbed practice, walks along the sea cliffs and beaches, swims in the sea outside the tourist season. The crowds will have left and the autumnal light of Sardinia will be much like this light of California. I plan to stay there preparing myself for Puglia, and then flying directly from Cagliari to Bari.

2016-05-09 17.37.34And that brings me to the final thread woven into the fabric of this present moment. If I need to be in Europe, but poised and ready to spring, what better place than under the Southern Italian sun? These past six months, I’ve become too accustomed to the healing and energising power of Surya, something I used to take for granted long ago but now treasure like a precious jewel. It is balm for my soul and nourishment for my body. In the precarious state where I find myself now, I need to stay close to its fortifying power.

But you who have been loyal students at Seven Winds Yoga remain in my heart always, and I hope you understand that Seven Winds is a state of mind as much as a place in physical reality. I have always taught the power of self-practice, encouraging all of you to make the yoga your own. Ramaswami said the same thing on his training. You can learn yoga in a group, he said, but your practice you do on your own. I trust that all of you who have been my students over the years already understand this well.

So may the benefits of yoga grace your life this autumn, may your practice bring you much joy, much peace. I send each of you my blessings and love, and I look forward to the next time we meet!

Om shanti