Full disclosure: this post is not going to be about downward dog or the sun salutation, so if you’re here to read that, I’m sorry to disappoint. I do a sort of Westernized hatha yoga with my husband to keep my body fit and healthy, but this post is not about that.
I know I’ve been really really absent; sometimes I need time by myself to sort things out, and my own spiritual practice is no different. My life has presented me with some challenging choices and I’m working through those. I also don’t know what I’m doing, as far as spiritual practice is concerned. I know for certain that sanatana dharma is still the thing that makes the most sense to me, but how to apply that practically in a way that makes sense to me? I am still figuring that out.
I suppose that’s part of the journey, right? I attended temple celebrations for Ram Navami a few months ago, which were lovely, if still a bit confusing. I’ve never seen the temple so packed with devotees! There were a couple of people who were very friendly and helpful, and guided me through what everyone else was doing. I was so grateful!
And then there was this guy. Backstory is that the temple cafeteria was giving devotees complimentary food as prasadam, so we wandered downstairs to partake. There was a long line of people we stood in, and I felt a little self-conscious, since I’m a relative stranger at the temple (being self-conscious is something I’m very good at). We got our food and afterward I noticed that there was lemon pickle in a little tub by the counter and that people were pushing into the line to get some. I love pickle, so I got up to get some myself. As I reached over, with a polite “excuse me,” a man glowered at me and demanded, “why are you here?”
Honestly, this is the first time I’ve encountered this. I replied, “it’s a holiday!” He then asked, “do you know what holiday it is?” Baffled, I responded, “yes, it’s Ram Navami.” Then he asked, “who is your guru?” I was caught off guard by this. I have no guru. I feel that a relationship with a guru is a personal thing, and should be built as one builds a relationship with anybody—carefully, making sure this is the right thing first. I have not encountered a living guru I feel comfortable enough with to do this, and honestly, this is a big holdover from my Christian background. I am wary of people in a position of great reverence from the public. So instead, I look to people who are good teachers, and take what knowledge I can from them until the time comes that I find the right guru (if that time ever comes). Anyhow, back to the man at the temple. He then asked, “how do you know what today it?” Stupidly, I said, “I read a lot.” This seemed to satisfy him, although he glared at me from a few tables away until we left.
It bothered me for a while. Why don’t I have a guru? Should I have a guru? I kept running questions like this through my head. Then I decided that I’d learn about people who’ve built relationships with a guru, and continue on my path of personal discovery.
I’m fascinated by that relationship. I’m also fascinated by the various ways people express devotion. Yogic discipline is not something I think I’ve ever been particularly good at, but it’s another habit to develop, so I am hopeful I can do it someday.
Yesterday I found this documentary, and have watched it twice. Ashrita Furman decided in college to become a devotee of Sri Chinmoy, a guru who advocated devotion through physical activity (hatha yoga, as far as I interpret that). Ashrita chose to break as many world records as he could as an expression of devotion to his guru. It’s a delightful take on hatha yoga, and it is so refreshing to see a person so joyful about his life and his path.
EDIT: I was confused abotu the forms of yoga (this happens frequently), so I looked them up and found a handy shorthand guide: Hinduism: Forms of Yoga It breaks things down nicely into simple terms and while it’s not exhaustive by any means, it’s a good starting point.