It’s vata aggravating outside.
The wind bustles through my lion’s mane as I head towards the chicken coup. I try to imagine the days when I perceived daily chores as dreary, when I wore anything but long, flowing skirts and greeted the day with sun salutations. I had physically stayed at the ashram for three weeks, but mentally, it was as though I had stayed there for three years.
I do not know what time it is; the “hussle-bustler” in me cringes, but it’s oddly liberating. The fresh greens I carry under my arm have sprouted, have been cultivated right in front of me. These vegetables do a better job accepting time as it is. Humans always want to push forward, or look back. Plants just are. They are gleeful in the sun, but don’t despair in rain. They are meditative plants. We watch these plants as we nourish them. We try to imitate the meditative plants. I will accept time…eventually.
The ashram is an introspective setting, but we do not question in order to change. We question in order to understand. I enter each meditation session wanting to know how breath could possibly make me a better person. I am a student of critical thinking; letting go is about as natural as driving a nail through my foot. I must meditate through this foot-nail. Maybe one day I will understand. I power through the “om”s. Take time to form your om, let yourself be heard, my teachers tell me, yet I am still bound by shame of my voice, bound by expectations for insta-enlightenment. Perhaps I need to add on layers of spirituality; maybe I should wear some dreadlocks and beads. Would earth-toned jewelry make me better understand the world? I inhale deeply, trying to find additions to my spiritual nature. I think about the latest “30 Rock” episode and fail miserably. Liz Lemon is my entertainment guru, but not my life guru. Entertainment guru is so much easier to adhere to. She tells me to go buy some sandwiches and life will be less painful. The life guru tells me to practice, and when I’m sick of practicing, to practice some more.
I am growing weary of my inner self. We battle out my need for external approval. Outer me questions the comment a resident made about my hair. Inner me tells outer me I’m being ridiculous. These two selves rarely get along; the cushion I’m sitting on fails to inform me which self is the true self. I am stuck in my two identities, spiraling through a practice, like I’m watching stars trying to align. Which self, I wonder, will make me more selfless?
I start wearing more flowy skirts and mala beads. I learn more chants. I feed the chickens in the evening, before losing my mind–literally, letting go of the mind. All I need, I tell myself, is more, more, more. More sanskrit words that vibrate through my tongue will make me more spiritual. More yoga postures, more “om”s, more “namaste”s will give me more knowledgeable of the world. I am sure that more is the answer, never the cause.
By week four, I have familiarized myself with the chants. I can play dress up with the hippie look. I can pile on selves to an unformed identity, to a confused eighteen year old who has nothing to create but a puzzle of broken promises, shattering innocence. I have learned the way of this simple life; I can blend in and pretend, but I am not happy in this new shell of prayer and pretzel-twists. What, I wonder, am I missing?
I approach my teacher. He is seated inside the temple, eyes open, but focusing on nothing. His face looks peaceful. I try to imitate his peace by relaxing my jaw line. I feel foolish. Self-contentment is starting to feel like a VIP party that I didn’t get the invite for. I have not exchanged many words with this teacher; we bump shoulders in the kitchen sometime, we sit down at the same table for the same meal, but we do not know what the other’s pre-ashram life contains. Yet he looks at me with the kind of love and compassion a friend or sibling would give. He motions for me to sit, and lifts the corners of his mouth slightly. I try to, as the yoga gurus often suggest, get my shit together, but I feel like a shell that truly enlightened people can jeer at in a museum. Look at her, they’ll say, she thought she could still go shopping and eat meat and still be spiritual. My teacher notices my troubled look, but does not engage; he merely observes.
“I’m sick of this mask,” I say. “I’ve chanted and stopped buying jeans. I’ve eaten all the ghee in the world, and what do I feel? Nothing.”
“What is this mask?” My teacher crosses his legs. He looks like he could sit for hours. My legs begin to twitch.
“This ‘go with the flow, everything’s happy, la dee da’ mask. I hate pretending to be fine with myself. To be past indulging in external pleasures.” I will not cry. I will not.
My teacher chortles. “Do you think that because we sit with ourselves for an hour a day we are perfectly okay with ourselves?”
He closes his eyes, but he is still taking in the world. “We meditate not for the purpose of perfection, but for understanding. None of us are always happy with ourselves, and we certainly didn’t wear a mask to get to the bits we are happy with us. We meditate to strip down what is hanging over us, not to add more confusion to our lives.”
I blink. By forcing myself to think thoughts that weren’t my own, was I falsely meditating?
“You have what you need to meditate. Now you just need to strip away what makes you unhappy.”
I throw away the mental mask. I sit down on the cushion, and close my eyes. I think my own thoughts, stripping away what I no longer wish to become.