When I was about to enter India, from the Nepalese border-city of Birgunj, one powerful thought shouted in my mind: ”Don’t go south! Go back east!”. I had planned to go to Kerala, the south of India, to revisit Saji, my original Yoga teacher. But now that didn’t feel so good. How come? I thought that was the whole point with this trip. Had I traveled with all of these trains, through Europe, Siberia, China and on a long Jeep ride through Himalaya only to change my mind?
The thought of revisiting him had been there for so many years. Like for instance during that blue sky winter promenade in the city park of Kalmar two years ago. I remember distinctly how my heart peacefully but very intensely spoke, saying: ”It’s time for you to go back.” Showing me the face of Saji, as clear as anything under the sun that day.
Also during that scathing moment a few months ago, when I was lying in the living room sofa of my parents ocean house. It was early morning. Very early. The first sun rays of the day showed on the wooden floor. It was incredibly beautiful and peaceful. Or was it? I wasn’t sure. What I felt inside was in such a contrast to that room. Another brutal separation from a loved partner had cracked my heart open again. I was on the verge, thinking: ”I have experienced this pain so many times, what is it that I am not learning?” I was desperate to see the beauty of that room, but all I seemed to be aware of was that pain. When shouting through the roof: “Tell me what to do! So that I can see clearly once and for all! I don’t want to repeat this madness anymore!” The only answer I got was… the face of Saji. For weeks it continued in a similar fashion. It felt like everything had been stripped away but that vision.
When I decided that I would travel to him it had felt like a huge relief. It was a direction, where no direction had been for years. Now, how would I travel there? Taking into account the political debate of climate change I just couldn’t let my individual feelings become more important than the well-being of mother earth. Choosing not to fly to India was in the scoop of ’individual life-style changes’ that I could do. Going there by land would also be a time of great reflection. When Saji had heard about my plans he had said: ”A great Yogic journey”, maybe insinuating that the journey, not the goal, was of the greatest importance.
One friend, Alice, had heard me speaking a lot about Saji. She hade become curious to go and study with him. It was obvious that I would ask her if she wanted to join the journey. She wasn’t very tricky to convince. During mid-November 2019 we left Sweden.
I will never be able to tell the whole story of the circumstances and experiences that have been arising during these traveling days. Neither will I be able to give you all the perspectives and thoughts that have flowed through me. So this is merely a story, where I choose to select some few perceptions that are still in memory and try to make them graspable for you. For the sake of this particular story it doesn’t serve any purpose right now to give a lot of details of what happened before crossing Himalaya, so that’s where I will continue this sharing:
I remember so incredibly clearly those first hours after exiting Tibet through Gyirong Port and entering Nepal. The Gates of China closed behind us. It was almost like as if I could hear the roar of those gates when they slammed shut. China, a mysterious country, hidden behind visible and invisible walls. I was still so curious and a big part of me wanted to go back. But I was also content with being in that Jeep heading for Kathmandu.
Something had happened the day before. Our driver had been a bit reckless on the icy Himalayan roads and the car had slipped and crashed. Death had been knocking at the door that day. Strange that none of us had caught even a bruise. Our new driver, Kumar, on the Nepalese side of the border, was also quite reckless and the road that lead to Kathmandu was perhaps even more dangerous. For many hours my body braced itself tightly unto the little stability that still could be found. I think a lot of clarity came from those close encounters with… life.
Alice wasn’t going to stay in Kathmandu for as long as I, since she was under time pressure. A scheduled Yoga training with Saji was coming so she decided to leave before me. For about a week I was alone in ’our’ room. A time of deep reflection that was. I presume the car crash was working on some level of my sub-conscious, since a couple of somewhat new thoughts revealed themselves. This is from my journal from those days (translated from Swedish):
…too live genuinely is to do what feels right in big matters and small. To travel to Saji in the south of India is not my Dharma. That’s not where my curiosity wants to take me.3rd of January 2020, Kathmandu
The feeling of going to Saji that had been lingering in me for years, how could it have happened that it changed so dramatically? Car crash? Who knows. Answers can only be guesses, but I think something was learnt: A thought is only what it needs to be, not what it seems to be. This particular thought of going to Saji had brought me to Kathmandu. That was the end of that thought. But was it the end of the journey?
Another kind of clarity was there now. Calmly it said: Go back to China. I wasn’t very surprised. Like I have said before, I had long been curious about that region of the world before coming there. Now after being there it was revealed that this curiosity went much deeper. Profound joy and a very intimate sense of ’something being just right’ had arisen while spending time in Xi’an. It was very obvious that I was meant to familiarize myself more with those feelings and there was also no good reason to wait for that. One can say that the idea of going to Saji had physically moved my body to a place where another possibility could be discovered.
Now, let me return to the moment where my mind had shouted ”Don’t go south! Go back east!”
I had just entered India and was standing on the train platform in Raxaul and that voice was still there shouting. The train for Kolkata was about to arrive. I was going to get on that train, that was still clear to me, but at this point I started planning a new route for my journey. I would go to Kolkata like planned, but instead of changing train to a south-bound one, I would change to another one, one that would go north of Bangladesh and into Manipur, the eastern most part of India. From there I would enter into Myanmar and travel to the eastern part of the Shan-state. And, at last, there I would reach China again. I was being lovingly pulled in that direction.
So, I went east.
Just kidding, actually I didn’t. I went south. God it felt weird to go against that intuition. Very uncomfortable. Like I was being deeply dishonest with my dearest loved one. The dishonesty got even stronger when I tried to push the discomfort away, but eventually that seemed to work. The loved one wasn’t heard anymore. No longer could that clear sense of direction be felt.
I got lost.
Walking without direction
A few days later I rejoined with Alice and Saji in the ashram. I remember the awkward moment of throwing myself into the arms of Saji, not feeling particularly embraced or even warm in my heart, even thinking: ”What am I doing here?” There was no trace of the original feeling of importance of meeting him. There was only the fumbling after dusty memories.
During my days in the ashram I tried to constantly recollect the reason for me being there. I never succeeded, so I started to manufacture reasons. I told myself several stories of how important it all was. Like how I was there for the sake of not leaving Alice behind. What would she do without me!? Or how much Saji really needed me as an assistant teacher while educating the new Yoga teachers of that year. Okey, maybe not, but at least I was there to learn something deep and profound from him! No wait, now I know: I was there to seek spiritual wisdom and find answers for a higher kind of living…
Oh my, the stories we tell ourselves to feel better about the wrong choices we make. The feeling of being in the wrong place didn’t disappear, not even for a second.
Advices from a cup of tea
I had spent approximately two weeks in the ashram when my 33rd birthday was coming up. I took a day off and went to the nearby city of Kochi. There I rented a room in a hotel. I had brought a very special Chinese tea along. It was of Pu’er type and harvested from a 500 year old bush. I had been advised by tea master Bówén (博文) only to drink it on a very special occasion. My birthday was actually not that occasion, but the fact that I didn’t feel very well and wanted some help to see more clearly — that was the occasion.
I will tell you more about how helpful tea can be when you want to see more clearly, but for now I will just say that it spoke to me very point-on that night. First it said: What kind of ashram is it that one needs to leave to be able to think more clear? Then it said: Just go to China, man!
Simple and radical advices from a 500 old tea bush.
Imprisoned by a Guru
All of my family members had at different times used the term ’Guru’ when speaking about Saji. I had always been protesting, saying that he is nothing but my teacher. Had they been right all along?
When meeting him this time I realized something about that. Yes, I had been putting him on a pedestal and that idea had held me in a prison. A prison with walls so thick that I would choose not to follow my hearts desire because of them. This became more clear after that evening in the hotel in Kochi.
So I made a firm decision to become free of whatever it was that those walls represented, obviously they didn’t serve the decision-making of what I really wanted to do. When I came back to the ashram I reflected quite a lot about the chains I seemed to be locked by. One interesting thought that came to me was this one:
The social dynamics of a Yoga class
If you have ever been to any Yoga class then you have probably experienced how they usually end with everyone lying down in a relaxing position, while the Yoga teacher share something soothing. The gratefulness I have seen in the faces of many students. This is their water hole of relaxation, the only place where they can fully relax. The Yoga teacher has become the modern-day authority on relaxation, the one who gives people permission to relax. People seem to need that, at least they seem to believe that they need it. Did the same dynamic apply to me? As a teacher I knew I had that influence. But as a student? I had to investigate.
Saji would sometimes use his soothing (and a bit hypnotic voice) at the finish of many practices. Now I would simply experiment by not participating in the same way as I had before. Instead of letting the mindbody slow down into some kind of soothing trance, I would stay awake and very attentive, of course without being tense about it. So I came to realize that I didn’t need that drowsy relaxation and trance.
By small realizations — like that one — part by part got freed from the grip of the Guru. Eventually there was no longer any obvious meaning of going to the classes whatsoever. So I stopped. By then I started seeing the full social play that surrounded Saji. So much of what happened around him involved strengthening the idea of the ’spiritual authority figure’. One thing would be the way he skillfully succeeded in giving great importance to the concept of the Guru, while at the same time never asking for that role for himself. Another thing would be the general spiritual lore of the ashram (which extends a bit into how the Indian culture seem to function), that lore would constantly strengthen the same way of thinking — the thinking that people need authority figures (and teachings) to know themselves.
I can write a lot more on the subject, and I will, and that text probably will be called something like: ”The difference between the promise of freedom and actual freedom.” (One short text is already written about the subject.) I think you can already get the gist of it. But now…
This is the end…
A drop of dew. A lightning flash in the sky. Mist coming down the mountain. That is all the authority needed. Only curiosity is a guide. Now I travel onwards.