When I was getting ready to leave for my 200hr Yoga Teacher Training in India, so many people said to me: “you’ll see, it’ll change your life”. Despite all these messages, I really tried to go in without any expectations at all. I went in with the goal of succeeding my program and leaving a qualified yoga teacher, but anything extra, any lesson I learn or realization I would come to would just be bonus. I guess throughout the journey I didn’t even realize how much I was learning. The expectation would be to end up bursting into tears in the middle of meditation class having discovered the true meaning of life, however that’s not what usually happens. Every night before falling asleep Stef and I would ask each other what we’d learned that day. Each day brought a new realization. No matter how small, these all added up to greater lessons, ones which I still carry with me now. On our last day at Yoga Teacher Training, one of our classmates suggested we all write a “letter to our future selves”. She emphasized how easy it will be to get back into the hustle and bustle of daily life when we get home, and how easily we will forget the way we were feeling after such an enlightening month. I took her advice, and when I was at the airport leaving Delhi, I took the time to write a letter to my future self. In this letter I described three lessons I had learned in India. These were the three main realizations I did not want to forget. I don’t believe you need to cross the world and go spend a month in India to learn these, so here they are. I hope I’ve managed to convey them all as vividly as I’ve experienced them, and that you learn something from them as well.
Our first day at YTT began with a traditional puja ceremony, where a Buddhist priest came to perform a series of chants, offerings and religious rituals as a way of welcoming us. The ceremony was beautiful, but not gonna lie, after about 2 hours of watching the priest chant in Sanskrit and pour milk on a statue, part of me was getting antsy. It’s funny cuz you could really sense the difference between us (the 15 foreigners who had all just gotten to India that day, mostly from big Western cities) and the locals (our teachers and assistants). While we were squirming around trying to get comfortable, some of us wondering what the hell we’d gotten ourselves into, the rest of us asking ourselves when do we get some dinner, our teachers were just sitting patiently. It’s as if they had a completely different concept of time. The ceremony would last the time it would, and in the mean time, they would sit and watch.
The idea that we as Westerners spend our lives rushing around, stressed and on a constant race against the clock is hardly news to anyone, but my trip to India really opened my eyes to this even more. What I realized was that time is just a construct, it’s not real, however we let it rule our lives. Being someone who loves making plans, lists and focusing on specific goals, any moment not spent working towards something feels like a moment wasted. I’m someone who gets anxious at the thought of sleeping in because, what a waste of time! Right?!
In my letter I reminded myself to enjoy each small moment for what it is, not for the amount of time it takes up.
To measure my day in events and feelings, because that will make your day so much fuller, so much richer. To be so aware and conscious of my surroundings that I notice every minute detail and actually live them, rather that spending my days chasing time.
Our amazing yoga teacher Yashpal told us the story of the first time he took a plane only a few years ago. He got to the airport 3 hours early as he was instructed, but almost missed his flight since when he got there, he just sat and watched the planes taking off and landing on the runway. I just loved that story so much. When you imagine an airport, there’s always the pre-flight stress, people rushing around to get to their gate on time, shit my luggage is overweight, ugh why do I always over-pack, crap there’s no isle seats left, omg did I forget my plug adapter?! And in beautiful contrast there’s Yashpal, sitting in front of a window, so mesmerized by the planes that he almost forgot to take his flight.
People are good.
In my letter, I reminded myself to not always doubt others. Like many of us who have grown up in the west, we have been taught to be weary and sceptical. We have been taught that nothing in life is free; someone is always trying to get something out of you. Don’t trust strangers, don’t talk to strangers and don’t accept anything from strangers. One of the things that shocked me the most in India was how kind and giving people were. Even those with almost nothing, were willing to give even the little they had. A few instances in particular opened my eyes to this lesson.
We went to a jeweller in town to buy some bracelets. The man who owned the shop was very kind, he spoke to us in perfect french saying he was fascinated with french culture and taught himself the language with a book. He made us chai, told us stories about his life and shared with us lessons that he himself had learned. The following week, Stef’s necklace broke, a necklace she had gotten as a present years ago and it meant a lot to her. We decided to walk down to town one afternoon and ask our jeweller friend if he could fix it. He was so happy to see us, and fixed it immediately without asking for anything in exchange. He didn’t accept our money, simply saying that we were now friends, and that friends help friends without expecting anything in return.
One afternoon Mary, Stef and I went out for lunch and started talking to the young man at the table next to us. He was a local guy, sitting by himself, enjoying his lunch while reading a Spanish book. He told us he was learning Spanish so that he could go to Spain one day and visit his godfather. Naturally we asked why his godfather was Spanish and he told us that he met him on Facebook when he was about 14, invited him to come visit Rishikesh and he did. The young local spent a week showing the Spanish man around Rishikesh, being his private tour guide. The Spanish man really liked him and decided to adopt him as his godson. When we asked how he met him on Facebook, he replied that he randomly added him. He said that’s what he does. He randomly adds people because he likes making new friends. This made me think straight away of any time a random dude has added me on Facebook and my automatic response was “ugh creep…decline”. And here I was talking to a friendly young man, saying he loves making new friends, he loves meeting people from different cultures, learning from theirs and sharing his own. Not saying we should all go on adding every random person that adds us on Facebook, but It’ll definitely make me think twice before assuming any stranger has bad intentions.
Love yourself unconditionally.
Okay this might sound a little cheesy, but this is really a lesson I learned. I guess I only learned it now since I had always considered myself to be a very confident person, and never considered “self-love” to be something I had to work on. I like who am I, I feel good in my skin, I think I’m fun to hang out with and I laugh at my own jokes. It was only when we performed a metta meditation in our last week of YTT that I realized maybe I didn’t really love myself as much as I thought. This meditation begins by direct positive energy and love to yourself. I was feeling very ill that day and went to my room to take a nap during our ashtanga class. We performed this meditation right after the ashtanga class, and on top of still having a throbbing headache, I was also feeling guilty and annoyed with myself for having missed the yoga practice. I’ve done these type of self-love meditations before and I normally don’t have trouble directing love to myself, but on this day, I really did. I kept thinking, but I haven’t accomplished anything? How can I be proud of myself if I didn’t push myself to improve, if I didn’t push through the headache and work hard? How can I be proud of myself when all I did today was take a nap?
It then clicked in my mind that the exercise was not to be proud of yourself, but to love yourself. I had been doing it wrong all along.
I had always focused on my accomplishments, on how hard I had worked and how far I had come, but the idea here was to send love to yourself the way you would to a parent or your best friend or sibling. You wouldn’t love your mother on the condition that she gets a promotion at work, or love your brother on the condition that he gets into that masters program. You love them regardless of all of that. Although it’s still a work in progress I’ve learned that this is the meaning of self-love.