Monday, 21 February 2011

Stillness - where I found it...

I am set free in the midst of nature. I love the trappings of the big city world. I’m a hippy at heart with Jimmy Choos on my feet. I believe in non-violence. I swat mosquitoes. I am a fitness freak who loves her cigarettes. 
I enjoy the practice of yoga in the confines of my gym class, I sweat the toxins right out of my body. I understand theoretically what the ancient and contemporary philosophers say about the holistic life of a yogi but I struggle in getting the intoxication out of my soul. I know my flaws lie in my contradictions. Somewhere I know that my ability to be the jack of many trades but the master of none lies not in the uninhibited interest I have in life, but the inability to bring serious commitment to any. Osho would tell me I lack oneness in my being. Krishnamurthy would tell me I need to bring about more awareness within myself. Coelho would tell me to listen to my heart. They would all be right and yet for all good purposes utterly useless until my worldly mind learnt how to process this beyond-the-world information. And sometimes, all one needs is an example. A real life experience that gathers all this outside information and wraps it up within. A window, for those who wish to see the same view as Osho and Krishnamurthy and Coelho, but don’t quite dare just yet to open the door and greet it by stepping outside. I found my window. The physical practice of yoga helps me reach my window, and the window in turn brings me closer to the wholeness of yoga. My window? Diving into the deep blue ocean off the idyllic island of Kadmat. 
The ability to live in the now is the true gift of yoga, and it is a gift we find very hard to make ours for a thousand distractions seduce and torment the mind. Being in the present moment, absolute awareness of one’s body, absolute awareness of one’s breath, complete reverence for life and the present moment becomes not just a choice, but indeed the singular reality when you are 20 metres below the surface of the ocean surrounded by life that is vibrant yet silent, so beautiful yet so unassuming.
As I sink down into the new world there is too much splendor to bring thoughts and memories and emotions from the world above. All I take down with me is a tankful of air, a supply of pure fresh prana. I watch mesmerised as a school of fusiliers rain down from above like arrows from medieval armies. I watch their electric blue bodies and yellow sun-kissed backs flitting their way across the water. I hold still as they pass and I see the wise round head of a Napoleon Wrasse, as peaceful as his namesake was violent, he captivates me not with colour or flamboyance but with sheer size and expression of infinite patience. I have a wall of coral on my right, the deep blue on my left. The wall extends deeper than I can see, I inhale and pause. An intense feeling of stillness comes over me, the silence is profound as I let go completely. The water holds my body, all around me is blue blue peace, as far as my eyes can see. I exhale slowly, letting out playful bubbles. It makes a deep sound, the only sound filling the silence, and I become completely aware of my breath. I play with it, stretching out my exhalations, cutting them short, creating pauses, making bubbles. I watch what a lungful of air does to my body in the water, lifting me up, setting me down, the power of breath, breathing, and pranayama come alive, going from wise advice in Patanjali’s Yogasutras to a moment of pure enlightenment spreading right through my mind, spirit, body and heart.  
The deep stillness in my mind seeps into my body as I hover next to the pointed stems of stag-horn coral on the wall. I do not worry about the pain of touching it for I now have complete control of my body and the space I want it to be in. I peer into it, noticing movement. Through it’s branches I see a salmon pink crab adorned with black polka dots. No larger than a thumb nail yet with intricate detail unmatched by even the most accomplished artisans of Mughal miniatures. Under the curve of a rock above I spy on two Dancing Shrimp. Again miniscule yet glorious in the design of red and white, like multi-limbed ballerinas moving to a silent song. I check my computer to realise I have been been at one spot for 10 minutes, seeing layers and layers of life in a lesser area than the size of the page these words are printed upon. I could stay here for the entire hour and still see something new every moment. I have the same revelation as the saints - the mind plays tricks on us. It stages plays of the past, projections of the future, but extinguish the raging fire of the mind and you behold the detail, the design, the delight of the now. 
I have fallen behind the other 4 divers, all I see of them are the bubbles in the distance, and I know that all I am to them now is the air I am expelling from my own breath. I am suspended in the blue, water above me, water below, weightless, thoughtless, free. Gravity does not dictate that I stay grounded. Friction does not make me rough edged. My movements are fluid as I make my way to the group. 
The dive leader indicates that it is time to surface. I have been under for 60 minutes, but the concept of time lost its meaning down here. Each moment is lived so fully and given so much attention that it feels as complete as the entirety of existence. I understand now that when the Buddha speaks of a life without desires, without emotions, without attachment - such a life is not bland as I otherwise feared. I have not lost myself without these, contrarily I have experienced that without the fleeting I am eternal. I have tasted this state for the past hour - I know now what true freedom feels like, released from the bonds of attachment as I watch one beautiful fish swim into my vision and then gracefully away, as unobscured for a moment the sun spotlights a soft coral and create a magical glow before passing behind the curtains again. I know how vibrant the world can be when I view it directly rather than through clouds of emotions and worries that dull the colours, smother the sounds, blur away any brilliance that might otherwise be. 
We ascend to 5 metres for a safety stop....
I sit at the bow of an old wooden boat, to return to the island. The floor is low, so I am almost level with the water, as the occasional spray reminds me. My being feels light, fleeting and soft, both in thought and body, happily blissful. Science might explain it away as the presence of extraneous nitrogen in my blood, but I am certain it is the magic of experiencing a new world. Finding a new space within me which is full of light and stillness. The boat docks by a simple, rickety jetty that extends about 50 metres out of the island. Diving, like yoga, fires up an appetite, and we are back just in time for breakfast - a simple fare of south indian idlis or upma, along with toast, butter and omelets for those with Western palates. 
The island is narrow, only 400 metres at its widest, and about 11 kilometres from North to South. White sand fringes the land where coconut trees outnumber the people by far. The waves break far away from the shore, creating a turquoise blue lagoon that acts as a natural infinity pool surrounding the land. The local people are too proud for servitude - they have their own inexplicable logic - and the tourists go home with a lesson or two about patience and surrender. 
And as I learn surrender, so I learn glory. Standing on the sand bar at the south tip, all alone staring out at sea feeling like a victorious king surveying my aqua kingdom. I see no one, hear nothing but the waves, and I know what it means to be with myself. I spend the day reading on the beach, kayaking into the lagoon, snorkeling over coral heads which are like oasis of life in the waves of white sand. I have the option of going for a further dive or two during the day. I can choose between being with my self or talking to local fisherman, spending time with the dive team, playing beach games or reading thoughts on stillness and spirit and finally, finally, understanding. 
In the evening I practice yoga on the West side watching the sun ease its way over the horizon, vibrant pink dissolving into translucent blue. I begin with suryanamaskaras, offering my salutation up to the sun as its orange sunset glow bathes the world. I am lit from within. Like when I am diving, the mind is still and my body is fluid. My practice flows from one posture to the next - inhabiting each one fully, and letting it go completely to move to the next pose. I recall the awareness of my limbs and muscles that diving commands from you, and bring it into my practice. I let go of all philosophy and instead bring attention to the sensations in every muscle and layer and fibre of my body in each asana, and the mind-body union itself becomes a religion. In my forward bends I surrender to the ground like I surrender to the currents to help me in my dive. In my twists I bring attention to the alignment of each vertebrae as I do to the formations of schools of little silver-sides. In my balancing postures I draw on the absolute stillness I found in the ocean - I picture the air around me supporting me as I felt the water holding me, making me weightless. In my backbends I experience the confident euphoria of being comfortable in a new world and a new sensation. And as I settle into savasana at the end of my practice I close my eyes and let go, just as everything on land fades into insignificance when I exhale and deflate to sink into a blue watery existence.
Evenings on Kadmat are relaxed and ease peacefully into the night. The island is alcohol free, though many choose to sneak in a bottle of grain or grape, and most nights are spent sitting on the jetty watching the stars above and the phosphorescent plankton glowing below, listening to travellers’ adventures or the music of gentle ripples kissing the sand. 
It is time to head back to the mainland. I leave the island still swatting mosquitoes, still ogling at Jimmy Choos. I’ve intensified my yoga, I still love my cigarettes. But amongst all the transient pleasures I have found a quiet space within myself. I’ve found meaning, I’ve found stillness. Removing myself entirely from my everyday life I have removed myself from everyday worries and everyday thrills, and I have glimpsed the beauty that Patanjali spoke about. Yama and Niyama - the goodness of the mind, asana - the strength of the body, pranayama - the power of breath, pratyahara - the practice of detachment. For a time the mind has stopped so that the soul can see. 

  1. Coming up... a yoga sequence I practice on the island, which always takes me deep into the still waters...

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