Our Journey to Sthidhi: 1. The Self as Dear
The idea was a simple one. We would explore all the secret, remote and magical locations in Southern India in order to put together our own unique itinerary for our yoga retreats. This is a story, told in hindsight, of two yogis, on our own quest to bring joy, steadiness and ease into our lives and those around us, drawing on yogic philosophy for guidance. Sthidhi is the name we have chosen for these transformative yoga experiences, meaning position, seat or balance in Sanskrit.
The Self as Dear
When life’s challenges seem insurmountable, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to remember all one’s knowledge and power, and problems, which we all have; are transient and fleeting. Bangalore, the home to rats the size of dogs, saw us tumbling from one obstacle to the next, inching forward painfully slowly in toxic traffic on our friend Ashwin’s beautiful yet beastly, Royal Enfield bike, and feeling far from divine.
Prior to this, for 5 months, we faithfully communicated via Facebook instant messenger, sharing ideas for our new project, so far unnamed, and our experiences in our respective home countries of India and England. We had met one year previously at the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala and recognised a deep and indefinable union between us.
Throughout the time apart, our desires, cravings and expectations were mitigated by an embryonic understanding of the teachings of the Vedas and the Upanishads, which amongst other things emphasise that our original nature is ananda, (bliss) and that happiness, joy and wellbeing are those moments when there is unobstructed manifestation of this innate divinity. So we remained positive; finally reconvening on September 1st 2016 at the airport in Bangalore, weary from our experiences working and living apart and overjoyed to be reunited again.
Alas, the beautiful skies of Bangalore belie a darker underside of hopelessness, apathy and alienation. We organised to stay in a one bedroom flat in the HSR Layout for 3 weeks and spent a good deal of time on the internet and navigating the aggressive yet standstill traffic back and forth between one end of Bangalore to the other to view a variety of vans in various states of disrepair. Without transport we wouldn’t be able to investigate the South Indian countryside, the Kerala backwaters and the Western Ghat mountains as we had planned to do, since buses and trains would limit access to the more remote locations. A van would save us the cost of staying at guest houses and eating in restaurants, we surmised, while sipping tea roadside. We were very close to buying one Tata Venture but as soon as the mechanic took a look at the vehicle, he was covered in black smoke that had suddenly exploded out of the exhaust!
To add to the complications of finding a decent vehicle we had a registration process to deal with so dense it takes the will of pure diamond to slice through it. We put our trust in a showroom for Maruti Suzuki and they made many promises about the likely time it would take to repair one of the most common vans in India, known as an Omni. Alas, 1999 vehicles have rare spare parts! The service centre claimed they were still waiting for the delivery of the parts 3 weeks after we had asked for repairs to be made!
The elephant God Ganesha's celebrations and the strikes over the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka water dispute, was causing havoc on the streets, with the latter event leading the service department at Maruti to down tools. We knew it was over when we saw the mechanics pushing the van back to the showroom after a disaster test drive. It was clear: this van would never drive again. Things were not going our way to say the least.
We were beginning to feel that our natural default for bliss was being very much obstructed by our circumstances. So to clear away the clouds in our minds, we visited the Yelagiri Hills to smell some fresh air and be in the mountains for a few short hours.
Simply enjoying beautiful meals together and with dear friends, helped us to feel bright and positive when everything seemed to be pitted against us. We became meal designers knocking up creations such as plantain and peas roti or rainbow salads of spinach, coconut, peanuts, peppers, lime, chilli and moong beans. Daily yoga practice and meditation really helped to feel the rays of the sun on our face again. After all when the clouds eclipse the part of the earth where we are dwelling, there will be some part of the earth where there is no eclipse. The sun is ever present. The Upanishads teach us to focus on the internal source rather than external influences.
The concept of Ahimsa (meaning non-harm to others and yourself) runs through the Upanishads. “One should meditate upon the Self alone as dear. He who meditates upon the Self alone as dear—what he holds dear will not perish,” suggests the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Self-love and self-care is a major part of bringing more light into your life. If you can to connect with what is permanent and real, there is ultimately more space to bring your inner nature, your kindness and compassion, to others.
It probably wasn’t kind or compassionate to threaten the car dealers that we would come and camp in their showroom if the van was not ready TOMORROW but we justified this as a necessary show of strength.
One of Akhil's dearest friends catastrophically met with a motorbike accident during this time. Perhaps it was serendipity that Akhil could be there to communicate with the doctors, bring his love to his friend and talk to the college about helping with funds for the necessary operations, and negotiate our friend some leeway for his deadlines. The aim to free oneself from suffering, from desire and attachment, does not mean ceasing to try, or ceasing to possess what we really need, but rather drawing attention to what really counts. Or in other words, treating your self and those you come into contact with, as your dearest child or friend.
Finally, we managed negotiate a deal on a Maruti Zen car. We had to abandon some schemes, such as fitting solar panels and a water tank to the roof of our dream van, and we were fairly exhausted by the end of our stay in Bangalore but our daily yoga practice, chanting and meditation helped to keep us in a positive state of mind.
You’ll be delighted to know that we do not take guests anywhere near Suicide City aka Bangalore on any of our trips, every vehicle we use is in tip top condition and every location spot-checked and vetted personally. We did the legwork so our guests can concentrate on feeling blissful!