Recently a fellow yogi asked me if I could let her have a brief summary of the notes I took when Hamish Hendry came to run a workshop at Stonemonkey Studio recently – she had seen me scribbling away as he was talking.
(As an aside, I find it impossible to listen to someone imparting knowledge of any kind without taking notes – I often never re-read these notes and even find myself writing utter illegible nonsense whilst still looking at the person speaking – it’s like a weird compulsion, where my hand takes over. I’ve come to think it’s just how I process things, as though the act of committing ink to paper reflects the process of commiting thoughts to memory – but who knows?!)
Anyway, not that ‘brief summaries’ are my forte (try ‘lengthy ramblings’ for a better bet), I promised I would get something down. So here goes…
It was the second time I had practised with Hamish – as before, he ran a Mysore style self-practice class in the morning and gave a talk on aspects of yoga philosophy in the afternoon. And, as before, I was struck by his intuitive knack of being in the right place at the right time for adjustments and his uncanny ability to get you doing things you thought were beyond you, in the most unfrilly, no-nonsense way imaginable. Supta kurmasana? Not a problem – wham, bang, legs behind your head, hands clasping. Err… hello? This isn’t something I do, Hamish! Well, it is now. Drop-backs for the first time after a hugely emotionally challenging barren back-bending spell? Yep, off you go, lovely job, done and dusted. Yet his adjustments feel completely safe, completely in control – my body seems to react enthusiatically to his speedy, firm manipulations like a trusting puppy. Yes, he is certainly a very gifted and experienced teacher, who I sense operates on a hugely subtle, energetic level, tuning into his students and what baggage they bring with them, even as they first enter the room as complete strangers.
This is summed up my the fact that, as he assisted me with drop-backs (I’d been avoiding these for months – it’s a long story – you can read my recent frond yoga website blog post if you’re really interested…), he combined his usual perfunctory adjustments with a kind smile and the words,
‘You can do this. It’s just this stopping you,‘ (pointing to his head).
How did he know?! I mean, I’ve only met the man twice, yet he managed to summarise seven months of emotional rollercoaster in that simple statement! And something in me broke down – in a good way. I found myself sobbing (and I mean, sobbing) in child’s pose after successfully (and rapidly – good old Hamish) accomplishing what had eluded me for months. You hear of such emotional releases during yoga, especially in back-bending, but that’s the first time anything like that has happened to me – slightly awkward, but luckily child’s pose is a very forgiving pose for emotional melt-downs!
Anyway, I feel truly blessed and inspired to have worked with him and would love to work with him more often.
In the afternoon we did some sanskrit chanting from the Bhagavad Gita. Ahem, sheepish confession to make: I appear to have lost the copious notes I made regarding the full details of this chant.
(As another aside, I have a terrible habit of scrawling my compulsive note-taking onto whatever random piece of paper I can locate at the bottom of my bag – my home is scattered with back-of-envelopes and back-of-receipts, many of which inevitably end up in the unfathomable graveyard of Very Important Scraps of Paper, the location of which remains as elusive as the Bermuda Triangle.)
However, I did write down an approximate translation of the chant on my frond yoga facebook page as I was so taken with it, so I shall reproduce this here:
‘Be happy for those who are happy; be compassionate to those who are suffering; be joyful for the virtuous; and be indifferent to the non-virtuous. If you manage to do all that, your mind will be cleansed and you will find inner peace.’
I was struck by just how much of a challenge to the average human being this deceptively simple set of instructions contains. If you break it down, you see how potentially difficult each instruction is:
1. Be happy for those who are happy.
Scenario: You’re having a shitty day. You’re stressed out and feeling grumpy, frumpy, etc. Someone posts on facebook about how wonderful their holiday in the Seychelles is and how happy they are, with a photo of them looking radiant. “Eugh,” you say in disgust. Them being happy makes you feel unhappy about yourself. Familiar? Oh come on, we’ve all been there at times! Imagine having the zen-like quality of being genuinely happy for others’ happiness at all times. Their happiness would create your happiness, therefore happiness would be doubled, and the world would be a happier place, not to mention you too! Sounds like a pretty good thing to aim for…
2. Be compassionate for those who are suffering.
This is, seemingly, the easiest one of the bunch. Empathy and compassion are part of what makes us human. But take it a little further and remember that everyone is suffering in some way. To get all Buddhist on you for a minute, life is suffering. So we should be compassionate towards everyone we meet. Not so simple, huh? Especially when that person is being really unreasonable/annoying/spiteful etc… Such negative behaviour usually comes from intense suffering, so really our compassion should increase for those people. It reminds me of a lovely quote (source sadly unknown – can anyone help me out?), which I find very helpful: ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle, of which you know nothing – be kind, always.’
3. Be joyful for the virtuous.
This is a bit like the first one, but more specific. If you’re struggling along your own spiritual path, this is about how you view those people who just seem so far along it themselves that they appear too good to be true. You know the ones: they’re vegan, they glow with vitality, they get up at 2am each day to do their four hours of yoga practice, including pranayama, study and meditation (this is ACTUALLY what Hamish does – FACT!), they do a lot for charity, they only buy organic and locally sourced products etc, etc – and they’re bloody lovely people to go with it, dammit! Something very human in you wants to hate them, wants to find out their flaw, wants them to get ‘found out’. Then you meet them and they’re just so, well, lovely and down-to-earth and humble, that you feel terrible. But then it starts again… This is so very human and I guess comes down to that very base emotion that it naturally within us all to some extent: envy. The people we envy possess qualities we wish we had ourselves – in this case discipline, commitment, courage and faith in their convictions. We should instead be happy for these people that they have borne such fruits on their own path, and grateful for them for spreading their warmth and wisdom and inspiring us to continue on our own paths. This links in with two of the yoga yamas: apagriha (non-greediness, which extends to not coveting what others have) and santosha (contentment – being happy with where we are right now and knowing it’s just where we need to be on our journey).
4. Be indifferent to the non-virtuous.
So, this is easy if you’re part of the non-virtuous crew! But if you’re trying really hard to develop yourself, become a better person, grow positively or just simply be more nice, people who don’t seem to hold the same values as you and flaunt this under your nose can be really hard to stomach. But they are people just like us – we’re all trying our best to muddle through life, and who’s to say your way is any better than theirs? Again, you know nothing of the battle they are fighting. It’s about taking judgement out of the equation and just focusing inwards on your own values, being true to these, and unruffled by others’ paths that are at odds to your own and even being grateful for the challenges that these people present us, as obstacles always teach us valuable lessons if we allow them to. Again, really difficult to pull off I would say, and only possible after lots of meditation/spiritual practice, in order to observe your feelings in a more detached way. So there I go, spouting about a spiritual path being the ‘right way’ – it’s a bit of a conundrum, this one!
Anyway I won’t bang on any more, but suffice to say there is a life’s work in that simple chant, and one I want to get involved with! When I finally find my actual notes from Hamish’s talk I will post some more of his wisdom… 🙂