I Guess This is How Rebirth Feels
It is July 31st, 2015. I am half way through my yoga teacher training with a queer feeling of being in midair. The same as in a long-haul, cross-continental flight: you’re crossing the ocean in the pitch-blackness of night, having your belly strapped in the leather seat of a flying metal box. Time and place blur away in the soft breaths of asleep passengers. You don’t belong to anywhere.
I guess this feeling signals the teacher training program’s effects. Our day includes pranayama – yogic breathing exercises – and meditation, philosophy, theory lesson, yoga asana practice. From 6AM to 8PM, every day except Sunday, in a 1 month duration.
I have a love-hate relationship with that first session of the day: pranayama and meditation for 2 hours, sometimes even 3. The first few days, my back hurts, my legs go numb, my head, after jumping from one thought to the other, gets drowsy. Many of my classmates give up after 5 minutes. One by one, they lie down for “sleeping meditation”. The other morning, I heard from my left ear a woman’s loud snore.
I try to sit through the entire session because I’m stubborn and I hate to lose. The first few days are arduous. The following days aren’t getting any better. While the back and the legs eventually get used to sitting, the mind keeps shifting between sleepiness and restlessness. You need to find a place in between and beyond for the mind to settle in clarity. Meditation seems to cause, instead of lifting, your suffering.
Once you’ve found it, through the guide of your breath; you are able to sit fairly relaxed and calm. Now you thought you’re okay. But you’re not. There is still something you need to face. It’s not the back-pain, the leg numb, the sleepiness, or restlessness, or the snore of your classmate. That something is yourself.
"I don't know"
It's July 31st, 2015, 8:30AM when I arrive at the center. I didn’t join morning meditation today because I needed time to write my TEDx Talk. The big day is tomorrow and my talk is still incomplete. I am underprepared for my yoga dance performance. I want to read a poem at the end of the talk, and the poem didn’t want itself – or better I couldn’t let it. It is about grandfather - I cannot talk about art without mentioning him and how he puts art in my heart. But my grandfather is on his deathbed, so I find myself choking up at the third sentence.
When I said yes to TEDx invitation, I did not expect teacher training to be so intense. Thus, here I am, feeling lost in midair, frantically preparing the talk of my life. It is like trying to juggle three oranges in a sky-dive.
The classroom door is shut and locked. This means meditation hasn’t finished. I sit on the sofa of the waiting room, take out my tablet to continue writing my talk. This is the 4th draft. This must be the final one.
The center’s door opens. It is NavinJi, another teacher of mine. He has arrived to teach the following session.
“Namaste NavinJi!” I say “Meditation hasn’t finished. It's taking longer than usual.” He greets me back and sits down on the sofa.
I put away my tablet. I like to talk to NavinJi and it is good to take a rest. NavinJi isn’t much older than me. He has a light brown skin tone, dark and very curly hair. He wears oval spectacles. They fit well with his round face. His smile is kind, and he smiles often. He grows both mustache and beard, which makes him look older than his actual age. When NavinJi is deep in thought, he fondles his right mustache with his thumb and index finger. This looks really hilarious. Sometimes I imitate this gesture in front of him just to poke fun.
I ask NavinJi about his work. He is not a full-time yoga teacher. I did not know that he is a university professor in Yogic Science, and he sees himself more in this role. Teaching yoga is his service to the community. NavinJi explains to me what Yogic Science is. Using science to demystify yoga, he has big machine in his lab to measure and prove the effects of yoga on the physical and energy body. I think his work is meaningful and fascinating.
After a while, our conversation slides into the topic of God – the Creator, the Energy, the Field, or whatever you want to call it. I blurt out a question I didn’t know I’d been holding inside:
“ArcharyaJi said that when our heart is pure, God will accept us. What do you think about it?”
“No comment,” he asks me back “What is God?”
“God is Love” I reply. I feel a lump in my throat. “But if God is Love, God would accept everything, right? No matter how pure or impure a person is…” Suddenly I sound like I’m protesting.
I leave the sentence open, take a breath in. Tears flow out from my eyelid – from where and why I do not know. I try to draw them back in. I cannot.
“Why are you crying?” NavinJi asks softly
“I don’t know…” I wipe my tears with my hands. “If people saw us like this, they would think you did something to me.” I force a laughter. Through the inner corners of my eyes, more tears are escaping.
“Yes,” he doesn’t smile.
"I cannot stop"
I manage to stop the tears when the new class begins. NavinJi’s class is kid’s yoga. Instead of teaching theory, he lets us pretend to be kids and play some games. The whole class is really into it. 20 adults run around the room, shout, and laugh. We even play tug-of-war. I’m the captain of one team, and my team wins 3 consecutive matches! I am surprised with my own strength. I feel energized and happy. The tears flowing out an hour earlier become a distant memories.
As always, our class finishes with a ritual: everyone sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, taking some deep breath, chanting a mantra. As soon as my eyelids shut, I feel tears rising at the back of my throat. And with my exhalation, tears burst through all four corners of my eyes.
I beg for whatever that is happening to stop before the ritual ends. I don’t want anybody to catch me crying. I feel a towel being put on my lap. Oh God, someone already saw!
I half-murmur the mantra, half-bite my lips not to let out a groan. The mantra ends and we open our eyes. I turn my head toward NavinJi, avoiding the look of my classmates.
“Come over here,” NavinJi beckons. We sit down at the far corner of the hall. “Why are you crying?” He asks again.
“I don’t know.” I sob. I can’t breathe.
Sensing something, NavinJi says: “Whatever happened doesn’t matter. Let go of your past. Live a new moment. Allow yourself to be born again.”
The words trigger even more tears! “I… cannot… stop…” I weep.
NavinJi takes me to AcharyaJi. AcharyaJi is sitting in a small resting room. Seeing me, he immediately asks: “What happened?”
“I …cannot… stop…” I cry out. My chest wants to burst. Sitting down in front of AcharyaJi, I begin to snivel and wail. I hear NavinJi saying to AcharyaJi “This is sadness. Not joy.”
My body becomes a pumping machine. It shakes as the water flows out through my eyes. I open my mouth, I sob, and grieve, and howl.
AcharyaJi pat the top of my head with his palm: “It’s ok. Cry. Let it wash out. It’s just the process. Purification. It’s ok.”
I try to open my eyes and see his face through a thick blanket of tears. Still patting my head, AcharyaJi looks into my eyes: “Your soul is holy. I know. Your soul is holy. It’s ok.”
Instantly, a question appears in my mind: “Really?”
I cry even louder. Now I know where the tears come from. They come from deep underneath my being. They are made of the past, of memories. They are made of regret and shame, and the stains of my reality.
“It’s the process,” AcharyaJi says so. Meditation is a way of getting intimate. With your mind and the reality of your human existence. Seated meditation especially. That’s why we resist it. Like avoiding that conversation with your lover because you fear what she may say, fear that your suspicions turn out to be true.
When you sit in meditation for 2, 3 hours many days in a row. Standing in the dark room of your head, you turn on a light. You see things you didn’t know were there. Your lover catches you off guard, you have nowhere to hide. She speaks. You cover your ears. Her voice echoes in your head. You can’t run. She says what needs to be said. You know it’s the truth. Still, it leaves you unutterably stunned.
By the windowsill I sit down and weep
When and how it hits I do not know. Realization sidles little by little, then explodes at me all at once. The light is on. Blinded and dazed, through the lashes of my squinting eyes I see jealousy, hatred, anger, betrayal, dishonesty, egoism, greed, lust, cowardice. A wounded and filthy being.
AcharyaJi tells me that my soul is pure and holy - AcharyaJi says that to everyone. But ever since the first time I heard that I’ve been skeptical. How can this filthy little being be holy? How can this be pure?
Regret pours over me.
“I wasted so much time.”
I wasted so much time pursuing fame and power to inflate my egoism. I wasted so much time in anger, hatred, and jealousy. I wasted so much time being someone else I was not.
This have made me suffer. I am wounded. My wounds are red, rimmed by blood, they are bleeding. They beg for first-aid, and the first thing to do is to clean.
Water cleanses. So tears come.
It feels as if I sit in that small room for an eternity. An open window is on my left, though which the light comes in to illuminate one thousand tiny dust specks floating in the air. Both NavinJi and AcharyaJi have left.
I keep on crying. I need to mourn my wounds and my existence. I need to mourn the time I lost, and the pain I put on myself. I regret this so much.
Some people say “have no regret”. I think regret is a good thing. You regret because you see a better way of being human. But you must be careful not turning that regret into self-loath, but into a lesson learnt. To do this, you need forgiveness.
“I forgive my past. I forgive myself. I forgive my past. I forgive myself.” I hum in tears.
In that hum of self-forgiveness, I realize it’s not about God’s acceptance. Every day, the sun caresses my hair. The breeze kisses my neck. The sky is above my head and the soil beneath my feet, it grows grass to tender my toes. I am already accepted.
But have I accepted myself?
“I accept myself. I love myself” I continue to hum.
“I love you, Milena. No matter how broken you are. No matter how imperfect you are. No matter how much stain you have on your hands and skin. You are still wonderful and perfect to me. You are worthy of Life. You are worthy of love. And I love you.”
The hum softens my breath. The breath softens my body. The softening takes time. I still sit there unmoving. The pain in my chest slowly melts away. Gone away with it, nothing’s left. I felt hollow and empty. I feel like a blank page. I felt raw. I guess this’s how rebirth feels.
We don’t know it’s a transformation when we are going through it. “It’s the process,” like AcharyaJi says. And I know I’ve gone through.
Aware Accept Forgive Self-Love Reborn
In order to transform, we must first be awaken to our reality. We have been standing in the dark all our life. Now we need the courage to on the light. We must see the stuff we’ve avoided all our life. How imperfect! We and our human existence!
Mourn if we must. And then accept. We forgive, we love again.
Perhaps this is redemption. Perhaps this is how to really let go, to live the next moment without the ghosts of the past. We put in our hands another chance. To be human. To lead a good life.