The first week of English training at the ashram with our visiting teachers [ www.shrijasnathasan.org/karma-yoga ] is about greetings, so that our family can become comfortable saying a few words to guests from western countries. “Namaste, how are you?” “I am fine, thank you.”
The next week we teach them a few important words to help guests with their needs: sad, happy, sick, hungry, frustrated, anxious, sore, tired, late, etc”¦. We practice these for several days with each other as we go through our work day.
After this lesson, I greeted the little class with, “Namaste, how are you?” And all together they shouted, “I am happy!” Not, “I am fine, as we had taught.” So I asked our chef, Papu, to explain why everyone says happy instead of fine, or tired, etc.
“No! All the same ““ hungry happy, sore happy, late and running happy”¦.same same.” And he went back to constructing 120 chapati’s for the lunch shift.
This is how the Indian mind works. Their happy baseline is firmly in place as they move from one celebration to the next. There is a holiday or happy event weekly, especially during wedding season. Days are themselves just preparation, a stop-over before the next gathering. With the philosophy that nothing but spirit is permanent, whatever discomfort that visits the body in one minute, ends again in the next, just as the next party will. So they enjoy equally all that is impermanent being of equal value in the world.
I climbed a mountain in Gujerat last October ““ 10,000 steps to the top and then again down. At 7:00 a.m. I hit my 3,000 step mark and felt my calves might be torn from the bone with the strain. Leaning over, massaging them and saying a little prayer for my ego, I heard a Dadi (grandmother) laughing out in Rajasthani, a declaration “My knees are on fire! Glorious God, isn’t it wonderful!”
To live, be here, and enjoy our families, our work, the nature as a playground, requires a connection that might feel like an exchange, or a compromise ““ if I live to be 92 and hold my great grandkids, then I agree to suffer troublesome knees.
But I have learned here in India that happiness doesn’t require a compromise. This place was not created in such a way that one object will cause pleasure and another suffering. Nothing here was designed to cause pain. Everything here comes from the same energy source. The energy that bursts a seed and brings the flower is the same energy that expresses hunger pains, or joint stiffness.
Therefore, if I curse my knees, I am cursing the same energy which expands a tree grove, conceives a baby, and extinguishes a star. Who am I to declare one superior to the other? Only an inflated ego can react with repulsion, inconvenienced or discomforted. Our permanent spirit, beneath that, is invincible.
I climbed the rest of the way in wonder of that, amazed at the Onenesss of everything. I am that Dadi and she is me. I thank my knees whenever the flowers bloom. And I have stopped telling people I am fine. I am not fine. I am HAPPY!
Shreejan Sita is the Director of Yoga Programs at Shri Jasnath Asan. She moved to India in 2013 to deepen her practice, seeking to connect our inner nature with Mother Nature. She is now pursuing a PhD in Yogic Counseling, working with opium addicts in the ashram’s annual summer de-addiction camp.
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