June 16, 2011

The Big WHY – A Lesson in the Highest

Busking is not my favorite thing. The humility it takes to run street shows in front of total strangers, on less-than desirable concrete substrates, at the whim of the audience’s delight or lack there of, is an exercise in either egomania or valor or both. And worse still is the necessary pandering for claps and coins in clever, catchy one-liners that either work or don’t at all (and when they don’t it’s painful). Which is why I never do them. But this being Paris, this grand city of croissant, cafe and coup, kings, queens and modern-day princesses, sights, cirque, and nightlife sounds, this mecca of high art, museum, monument and the Virgin Mary, the nexus of exposition, exhibition, and expense, (among other things) draws people from all over the world who upon entering it’s spiraling orbit, feel just a little braver, just a little bigger, and perhaps just a little more refined in their one-glass-of-wine-later step. It has the hippie setting aside her Chacos for heels, the lover falling in love with his pen, and the business man skipping that call for a glass of wine in the park, his dark Italian Paris-bought suite reflecting champagne sparkles off the Eiffel Tower’s once-an-hour demonstration.  Which is all to say that I too became caught up in the larger-than-my-life Parisian thrill and found myself saying; “Busking in front of the Louvre? Sure, why not?”

But let’s rewind a moment back to San Francisco. It’s late April and I’m rather unsuccessfully attempting to pack clothes, computers, hula hoops and books into 2 pieces of luggage that will accompany me on my journey for the next 3 months. Up until that point, it had all been planning. My favorite stage where all exists in the fuzzy, rainbow-ridden future where 40 hula hoops magically get themselves thousands of miles across an ocean to my class in Barcelona, travel details (the small ones) work themselves out, and I have more than ample packing space for all I could ever want or need – classy dresses, festival costumes and yoga wear living side-by-side in compartmentalized, spacious, and harmonious resolution.

And then there was the moment.

The moment when all that had been planned and penned so nicely into calendar boxes on my iphone became real and daunting and right in front of me. More than clothes in a suitcase or the logistics of hula hoops slammed the realization that I, in fact, had signed up to teach over 20 workshops and do 10 performances on 2 continents in 5 countries, and that the organizers of these events, my teachers, and my students were waiting patiently for me to blow their minds and ignite their hearts so-help-me-God. The weight of my (perceived) responsibility slammed down on me, crushing what nonchalance was left of my trip. The usual; “Who the hell am I to do this?” set in, and it’s ugly sister,  “how the hell am I to do this?” soon followed.

Equal in potency to these moments, and arguably in relationship to them, are those times in life where all flows with a grace and a confidence of purpose not of this world. Where all true vows set in motion an unfolding that you are simply a part of – not the conductor but the conduit – and you find yourself placed smack dab in the center of your life, at the frontier of your conversation with it, and you are raw, and open, and yet completely powerful in your vulnerability. You awaken to the realization that you are never alone in your endeavors, that, as Adya Shanti says, you simply can’t screw it up.

There is a principle that we abide by as Anusara Yogis that invites us to go to the highest first, whether we’re planning a class, settling a dispute, or interacting in community. When we get stuck in the detail, in the desire, in the deep, deep concern, that maybe, despite it all, we did get screw it up – this course of life that moves and unfolds with magic momentum – the question then becomes, Why?

Why do any of it? What’s the point? Who is it serving? What is it all for?

On this day amidst piles of clothing, lists of itineraries, and daunting logistics I felt as if I was an impostor in my own life – an actress carrying out the motions of someone far more skilled and prepared for this work. The myopia of the moment overwhelmed my big why and without that guiding principle to light the night sky, the more I felt I drifted off-course.

But the truth about the highest, I soon realized, is that it is all very simple really.

That weekend, suitcases packed, nerves on edge, I took my place in front of my students and friends at a workshop in Bend, Oregon – the first of many to come. I looked around at each face, settling into the silence of the moment, and took a deep breath. Reflected back to me in the eyes of my companions was a purity of spirit and a lightness of being. An intrinstic goodness and beauty that asks me to be nothing other than myself, not asks…demands.

I threw my lesson plan to the wind and vowed in that moment to make every person in the room feel valued, feel honored, feel seen. I vowed, in addition to the technical instructions and offerings of my lesson plan, to bring my heart to each word, my humility to each thought, my highest purpose to every dance routine and asana. In that moment of simple truth I felt free – free from my ego’s desires to be the best, bring something new, make it perfect, control the situation, blow their minds, execute flawlessly and look damn good doing it…free still from the inverse egoic impulse which holds the inner dialogue; I’m not good enough, I’m not prepared enough, I don’t have what it takes…

Free, at the end of the day, when all the preparation you ever could have possibly done had been done, to lay it all down in humble offering to something not different but more than yourself.

For the benefit of all. Simple. Sweet. Succinct.

One month later I’m in Paris outside of the Louvre. It’s all very dream-like; the spring sun touching my white winter skin in threat of burn, the fierce wind kicks up dust from the garden walkways and people from all over the world shuffle about, transitioning from a world of art inside the Louvre to a world of art outside. It’s easier this time…busking, as I’m surrounded by my kula, the Madu Kamala kula on the last day of our teacher training immersion with Sianna Sherman and Douglas Brooks. The vocal stylings of the incredibly talented Renee Wilson unfold in rich, undulating waves. I play along and dance in my black dress, bare feet on the cobblestone, smiling to the passers by, laughing when one of the sneaky kula members places money in our hat. As time goes on I find myself getting more and more into the experience – enjoying it even – as I let go of the need to ooo and ahh and just dance for the day, for the joy of it, for the epic epicenter that is Paris. We take a bow and thank everyone to spattering applause.  Suddenly, parting the crowd is a bubbly, chubby little girl, unsteady on her small feet, she careens away from her father and picks up a hula hoop, launching, all smile and fire, into so clearly an imitation of myself, spinning wildly, pigtails flying. Another little girl, shyer than first trepidaciously steps forward to me. I bend down and try to hand her the other hoop, thinking she too wanted to play and to dance. She steps aside, out of the way of the hoop and I see in her eyes that she does not want the hoop, but a hug, a kiss and connection of the sweetest kind.


This pulsation between fear and flow is, to me, is a damn wild ride, but it’s simple really. The highest will always invite opening. Why do I want to teach? Why do I want to perform? Why will I enthusiastically move through periods of anxiety, logistical nightmares, and times of self doubt? For those little girls and the life in their eyes, for my teachers, my friends, my lover, for this community, for this life that is a gift, for the sweetest smiles that go un-noticed, and for the inner promise and the true vow it would kill me to break.

When I remember those things, the world opens.

Try it sometime…ask yourself,… WHY?

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