Category Archives: Travel

Across the line

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It is week 2 in my 2.5 weeks of practice with Saraswathi at the end of this season. I had arrived on Friday, and managed to begin my practice with a strong led class with her 2 Sundays ago.
Today, I received my first Intermediate series postures from Saraswathi today. It was a quick blur of a practice today, perhaps remnants from the short moonday trip to Taj Mahal that I just got back from last night. With no dinner from the previous night, all I could think of by the time I reached Supta Padangustasana was “I am SO hungry right now”. Though practice was quick, I felt time moved slower than usual. I took extra breaths in between postures in my Downward Dog. I accidentally skipped one or two postures and had to pick up from where I should have continued from. It was an unusually challenging practice, not because the postures were painful or difficult, but because the energy level was precariously low as I battled moments where dark stars were swimming across my vision.
“Last year, what you do in Intermediate?”
I came down from my Urdhva Paschimottanasana and looked up to her from my mat. “None” I said, shaking my head with a small smile.
“Ok, today you try, Pasasana. After Setu, do Pasasana”
An immediate flashback to that fateful Mysore practice I had with DR in early February where he had questioned me on who my teacher might have been to have given those Intermediate postures when dropping back into Urdhva Dhanurasana still remained a complete mystery to me. I wondered a little how that situation would have turned out if I had answered his question with “Saraswathi”.
I nodded and proceeded to my final posture from the Primary series. My legs straightened just a little bit more in Setu, perhaps fuelled by the excitement of entering into Intermediate with direct blessing from Saraswathi herself. Pasasana came easy today, quelling the slight anxiety as I haven’t been practicing this posture in the weeks leading up to me arriving here. Just as I was getting ready to close of, she looked across the room and said “No, from Setu you jump through, Pasasana”
It must’ve appeared as a whisper when I said “I’ve done Pasasana” because she kept insisting “chatvari, jumpback”. She lead me up through Krounchasana after which I indicated an Urdhva Dharunasana and she nodded.
I have been practicing my drop back lately by hovering. I do it 3 times, first pressing on the sacrum and the other two, hovering as far back as my own bravery or fear (depending on how you see it) would allow me to. Today she stood a couple of students away, and said “go, just go. Go down”. And this is when I thought to myself “OK, shit just got real yo”
At some point in a drop back there is always the fear that kicks in when I am low enough. Perhaps sensing that I would not go back any further she placed one hand behind my back and I dropped back, a little too hard on my right wrist, but I did it nevertheless. And she brought me back up with one hand.
As I am typing this, I am still amazed at what that brief and ever so barely there touch of a single hand from her can give enough assurance that I won’t be breaking my neck or stumble forward uncontrollably. Sometimes that is all that is needed from a teacher, the moment when they give you enough space to explore the depths and borders of your own fears, pushes just enough to feel the boundaries, and supports you just barely to guide safely across the line.

Holding on to anger is like grasping on hot coal…

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“But why does it have to happen to me?” The ultimate question in all suffering. And the question I was not surprised to hear eventually being spoken out loud by the cab driver that was taking me to the airport that morning. It was way too early for such a deep and somewhat heart wrenching talk about betrayal, divorce, court orders and joint custody. Especially between complete strangers like that.

I am not a family lawyer, neither am I a trained relationship psychiatrist. But for some reason or other, a conversation that began about where I was headed to, veered towards the upcoming implementation of GST to the story of his wife who decided to file for divorce last year and his 2 hours a week visitation time with his 8 year old daughter granted by the court on his last hearing.

It made me think about the time I had the same question revolving in my own head. It could have just been minutes, but to hear it echoing around in my head made it seem as if it was an endless pursuit of an answer that was never really needed in the first place. Why is it rare for people to pose the same questions when they are experiencing joy and happiness? Or when they just won a million bucks from the lottery?

He was clearly lost in this conversation that I hadn’t want to continue any longer than it already has been. We were probably halfway toward the airport. Looking out the window of his cab, watching at the sky that is patiently waiting for the sun to lit its horizon, I heard him continue “Before I die, I only want to see one thing happen to her, to see her suffer in the way I did, to have her feel exactly what I had felt from her own decisions”

Completely normal human reaction no doubt. But I think the precious lesson in such circumstance is often overlooked, missed or sadly never discovered because we are just too busy planning, contemplating, imagining and wishing for the same dire circumstance to befall the person who has ’caused’ us this suffering. Perhaps it us that is inflicting the suffering on ourselves. Like that wonderful quote by Siddharta Gautama Buddha:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”

There are infinite perspectives to a single situation, and to focus on just one interpretation incredibly limits our ability to evolve as a person. More than anything else, anger, I believe are one of those precious emotions granted to us as an avenue to seek meaning within ourselves to enrich our experience in this lifetime.

Nari

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Government warnings of the impending typhoon arrived as early as 2 days before Nari hit the central city of Vietnam. It seems expected. Like this almost annual occurrence of Mother Nature is as normal as day and night.

I remembered how absolutely clear it was that day. Beautiful blue skies, and clouds like brilliant cotton candies scattered low across the horizon. The calm before the storm they say. The days preceding had been wet, filled with angry thunderstorm and brief reports on CNN covering this lesser known part of the world. We were right in the eye of the storm. And it was exactly how science would have described it. While everything around the neighbouring state of Danang was experiencing some sort of torrential thunderstorm, at least in the little office I was given in this NGO to work on my project, it was bright and sunny yet underlined with an eery silence you don’t often experience on such a beautiful day as this. No birds were chirping in the trees. No dogs barking in the streets. Only the incessant beep beeps of motorcyclists in the adjacent street of Le Duan.

By 12 noon the skies began to darken. At 2 we received news from the University officials, of which the French NGO was closely affiliated with, to send all of the students and employees home. A citywide curfew of 6pm was apparently announced across the city. Then it started to rain. And the wind came. It never left, only growing stronger in speed and velocity. The cab which took me back to Novotel, a mere 10 minutes scooter ride on any given day, refused to send me to the entrance of the hotel. Located next to the Han River, I guess any local with a sane mind, would have done the same too.

He dropped me next to the public tennis court, about a block away, muttering between broken English and fast, urgent Vietnamese about ‘road ahead is closed’. I remembered arguing for a minute and realizing my efforts were in vain, paid and stepped out of his cab.

The wind that hit my face reminded me of the time I was in Melbourne in winter time and had accidentally walked through a wind tunnel. I was leaning so far forward just so I could keep walking. A few times, my frame of 46 kilograms kept being pushed back. I was physically experiencing that famous metaphor of ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Literally. Between fear of possibly being swept away by this powerful wind, I humored myself with two thoughts, my work laptop is possibly heavy enough to keep me grounded and if I had carried an umbrella, I would’ve probably be Mary Poppins by now having a wonderful aerial view of the entire city of Danang.

That night I experienced Mother Nature wrath in all its glory. The capacity of this Universal energy to summon the entire city into its palms, heaving centuries old roots that has dug its way deep into the earth, and dropping all of humanity onto its knees was astonishing. All within the span of one night.

Before Nari hit at its full force, which apparently came at 4am, I sat down on the floor at the balcony of my hotel room, 10 floors above ground level and within relatively comfortable distance away from the torrential thunderstorm that had already began hours before. It was after dinner. I remembered the sense of awe watching this entire scene unfolding right before my eyes. A sense of being in extremely close proximity with the source of the energy that governs us all. Like I could reach out my hands and almost touch the center of God.

Earlier in the day, many of the locals were relating stories of the last major typhoon that hit their town some years ago. Rooftops being blown off. Electricity cut-offs. Sitting in the darkness. Random objects falling down unexpectedly in the middle of your living room. And that inevitable call of death that some had to answer overnight.

I remembered thinking how small we are as humans against the ultimate strength and energy that moves the earth around the sun, the powerful unseen hands that pulls trees, bridges and rooftops off its place. And how extremely minutiae our human problems are at that moment.

At some point, the hotel bellboys came knocking from door to door to remind guests to keep their balcony doors shut and tightly locked for safety reasons. By then I saw what the locals were trying to tell me earlier. Zinc rooftops dancing in midair as high as where I was standing from. And a perpetual, ongoing shrill wailing of the wind. Like the sound of a grieving mother holding on to her lifeless offspring.

I woke up the next morning to a quiet city. The balcony half flooded with rain water and littered with leaves. I looked down to the crossroad and saw every single tree, save for a few palm trees, uprooted and lying down on its side. Like a playful giant that came visiting overnight and decided to pluck every tree from its roots for fun.

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Life went on pretty much as normal the next day, the only reminder of Nari was the cleanup that city officials were left with in its wake. Someone in the office said they had to stop their motorbike midway while crossing the Dragon bridge because the wind got too strong and they were forced to hold on to the railings for dear life. Someone else said the roof on top of their kitchen got blown off.

And I was left mostly with a deep contemplation of Mother Nature and the power that resides within her.