Category: Homecoming

Grey Britain?

I woke up bright and early this morning.  Meditation is on the backburner due to it being a full-house (there are no quiet corners) and yoga’s on hold too, due to it being my time of the month.  So, I thought I’d make myself a lime and hot water drink, and settle in for some relaxing morning reads.  Guardian, BBC, Elephant Journal, Yoga Journal…my usual inquisitive haunts.

And what a depressing start to the day it’s been.  Sexual harassment stories and warnings throughout India (where I plan to visit next year); despairing lamentations over the rape culture of the West (how dare the public rape of a young girl get in the way of a couple of football scholarships); snow and rain terror throughout the UK (will this winter never end?); economic despair (still); Job Centre targets revealed (not to GET jobs for people….rather let’s just go out and GET those low-life, scroungers!); Australians and the English whining over who’s the whiniest of them all.

Sighs can be heard from across the room as family members trawl through similar stories.  Disheartened, despairing…isn’t this all hopeless, when will the daffodils bloom?  There’s a lot of pressure on these little miracles of nature.  They are a beacon of light, a symbol of hope, of change, that this bleak drudgery of a failing society “Grey Britain” may still breathe some life.

Even the Santandar ads make me want to cry.  The fabulous Jessica Ennis – one of the greatest role models for British women ever to emerge…and just a year on from her Olympic success, and she’s posing awkwardly, pointing at some soul-destroyingly, boring banking claim, and I want to scream…”WHHHHYYYYYYY????”  All that potential to lead, to encourage, to inspire, and it falls flat on a red branded backdrop.

I want to remain equanimous.  Nothing is permanent.  Anicca.  Annica.  In reacting negatively then all you’re doing is perpetuating more negativity, and what good is that to anyone?  But, I find myself wrestling with increasing intensity over when to continue to observe my breath, and repeat anicca, anicca, waiting for the heat, the fear, the despair to pass; and when to become the heat, the anger, the fear, the EMOTION of what is now.

At what point does observation and non-attachment become repression and detachment?

I can’t deny the power and the noise of our media – how influential it has become, and how disproportionately it favours hate, anger and blame.  How little it encourages joy, love and compassion.  And I don’t know what to do.  My yoga practice helps.  My meditation retreats provide some much needed respite.  Ayurveda and learning how to find my balance within such a volatile environment is invaluable…but still – why does it have to be such a fight?  Why is it so hard to be uplifted, instead of downtrodden by everything that’s fed to us?

The beautiful, the inspiring, the wonderful is happening every day, all around us.  It shouldn’t be so hard for us to see that, to be reminded of that.

In looking inwards we need to open up to our surroundings and to the environment in which we live.  It is our relationships to all of this…to everyone we speak to, to every voice we hear, every action, every grey cloud, blaring siren, every touch, every refrain, every moment…moment to moment…we are interacting and absorbing and exchanging….and sometimes its hard to keep believing, to keep practicing what we, deep down, know to be true.  That all of that is not to blame for how we feel.  That all those feelings of anger and hate and fear are coming from within ourselves, not those terrible ads and ugly stories on the news.  Even this impenetrable grey that seems to have wedged itself permanently between us and the light and warmth of the sun…isn’t to blame.

I guess, as much as I’d like to, I can’t run away from this weather, or the media.  But, I can change my response.  I can observe the sense of anger I feel towards the banks and giant corporations, to the politicians and the seeming lack of compassion.  I can observe the sense of fear I feel over the sexual violence against women.  I can observe the sluggishness and weight of this long, long winter.  But I don’t have to become these things!  I don’t want to be a victim, or an aggressor, or a perpetuator of further anger and despair.

I want to be better than that.  I can be better than that.  So I guess that means I’d better let go of these negative feelings that I started my day with, and be grateful for what we do have.  I can compensate for the media’s preference for misery, by focusing on what’s good.

Like the UK becoming the first country this year to remain loyal to its G8 promise:

Like following and sharing the uplifting and inspirational stories of friends, such as Lucy Fenner, who are overcoming great personal struggles:

Like listening to some fabulous music, or making a pot of Kapha-balancing tea for my family.  Like creating gift-bags for my lovely Oxford ayurveda-massage clients.  Forgiving myself for moments like these…when I get drawn into the frenzy of sensationalism and fear-mongering.   Like setting aside an hour later on in the day, quiet-corner or not, to at least try to meditate.

It is a fight to remain equanimous.  But why not?  I’ve fought for things before…

Grey Britain?  It doesn’t have to be.



Yogi signs on…

Today was my first official “sign-on”.

I entered the horrendously ugly 60’s building with a skip in my step.  Nice to have a bit of a routine, someone to check in with and talk to about this whole unemployment thing…

Handed my little book to one of the many assistants looming in the hallway, and took a seat in section one, next to a shy man with jam-jar spectacles.

Above his head was a poster,

“Who knows where the right job for you could lead?”

Motivational, hopeful, I started to brim with ideas, roll around in the endless possibilities, like a cat in the dust.

“shelf filler”


“sales assistant”

another oh.

“sales supervisor, department manager…” every painful step of the ladder sending a splintered shard into my heart, until “store manager” was interrupted by the muffled call of my name: “Miss Hancock”.

Yes.  Yes.  That’s me.  I ejected from my seat and launched myself away from the epitome as fast as I could.

CVs spilling out of my “I love the Green Cow Organic Farm” bag, ink-stained fingers rummaging for the thirty forms I had to fill in over lunch, a tirade of stories and words exploding onto his desk.  I couldn’t help but notice his eyes enlarge, and body lean back.

“I don’t know what to do about my CV!”  I explained, with genuine angst.  Expressed my suspicions over the assumptions and stigma associated with the word “oxfam” and “charity”.

“I am not Mrs Doubtfire!  If they’d just read on they’d see that!”

Hmmm.  Yes.  Yes.  He muttered, as he slowly returned to his original position, and took hold of my CV.

I waited expectantly.

“You could…”

“Yes?” I asked.

“Just take it out.”

“What?  All of it?”

“Well, if it’s a genuine concern then maybe it’s for the best…”

6 years of hard-work, four divisions, all those projects…and stress.

I reclaimed my CV, folded it up and placed it protectively back in my bag.

“Its ok.  Maybe its just a sign that they’re not the right jobs for me…”

And so my first interview came to its end.  As I gathered my things and thanked him for his time and attention, he looked up at me and said.  “You’ll get a job soon.  If somebody sees you…you’ll get the job.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It’s a full-moon today.  Energy peak, static attention-span.  When all the dementia patients on my mum’s ward at the hospital go loopy.  I wondered why I couldn’t get past Suryanamaskara A this morning.

Vata incense burning richly in the fire-place, morning sun warming the front of my body.  The thoughts in my head are in a frenzy.

There are so many things I want to do…

I heard from a friend from the Vipassana course this morning.  Reminded me of a card she’d given me :

The true meaning of life

“We are visitors on this planet.  We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most.  During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful with our lives.  If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find your true goal.  The true meaning of life.”  H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama

Perhaps I can pin that over the poster in the job centre on my next visit…




I wonder whether the greatest fear of a storm, is the loss of control.  In Nassau, when the warnings came for category 4, sometimes 5, hurricanes – we followed the same routine.  Garden furniture in the pool, coconuts cut down from the trees, masking tape crosses on all the windows, bath tubs full, stock of water, tins of food and candles in the kitchen cupboard.  Cats herded and secured (if they hadn’t run away already), batteries stocked up, visitors from low-lying parts of the Island coming to stay for a bit.  It was always a great debate….higher up with the worst of the wind, or lower down at risk of water surges and tidal waves.  All this preparation, knowing full well that when the winds began to gather their strength, palm trees bent double, and the power goes out – there’s fuck all you can do about it.

We were always ok.  The Bahamas is always ok.  No matter how treacherous the hurricane, the string of tiny islands off the coast of Florida always manages to pull through.  I wonder sometimes whether it’s that resilient attitude, that inherent acceptance.  We live in the Caribbean, we’re tiny islands, we can’t run away…so just get on with it.  No real dramas, very little coverage, reliant on the bigger neighbour to hype it all up.  The islanders just go quiet for a bit, keep their heads down, and when the worst is over, all pull together for a big clean-up.   Emergency supplies sent to the little ‘uns of Exuma and the Berry Islands.  Return to school and work in dribs and drabs, as the debris is cleared and flooding recedes.

It’s a bit of a wake up call, a bit of a reminder to us all, what a great power Nature is.

Makes the quiet, sunny morning feel like a fresh start.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Considering I haven’t felt particularly connected to my “self”, my “being”, whatever it is you want to call it of late…yesterday was a bit of a resurgence.

I passed up my overdue mysore class at the shala at stupid-o-clock for a 90 minute meditation session.  I don’t need to be at the Oxfam book shop until 10, so I could just switch myself off and go with it for as long as I needed to.

Ordinarily I find it all a bit of a struggle, literally focusing on patch-of-skin to patch-of-skin.  To sweep:

sweep ‘en’ or ‘on’ masse – sweep your attention or move your mind through the entire mass of the body

a one-off that I daren’t consider could happen again for fear of cravings setting in.  Yet, yesterday that’s all I could seem to unwittingly do.  I can’t describe how it feels.  The warmth, the vibrancy of it, especially in motion.  Everytime I passed somebody on the street I would feel another surge, like I was plugging myself into them on some esoteric level.  It was a sensation I described in the past, where the physical body becomes nothing more than this framework, this vehicle, for something much more alive.   It was invigorating and exhausting all at the same time, like I was generating and dispersing, absorbing and expelling energy simultaneously.

I know it probably sounds like I’m crazy, or, as my trusted Quizzee boys stated, like I’m high.  And yes, there was a moment in the meditation centre when I thought that perhaps, just perhaps, that environmentally friendly water cooling-system, was in fact a drug that was causing us all to hallucinate and discover all these “outer”/”inner” body experiences…But this is 9 virtuous weeks later, and it’s still there.

I think that maybe, after all this time, I’m starting to find my balance.  Blind spots are coming into view, my fears and anxieties beginning to ebb.   I let a wasp land on my arm and the thought that arose above the initial “AHHHH!” was, no harm to others, no harm to others.  And maybe it was the process of going through a storm, facing up to it, like the Bahamians do, that’s landed me here.

Anicca, Anicca.  I remind myself.  This moment will pass again, this feeling of elation and connectedness, but alas, I know now that going through things like that are an opportunity to train the mind a little more, to find some deeper truths, and to enjoy, as I despaired – with consciousness, with awareness.

I woke at 4 this morning, and already the free-flow sensation had dimmed, but I settled into my meditation, and scanned my body with my mind, en-masse for a moment or two, and then back to the blind spots.  I practiced my yoga.  Moon sequence.  I’ve only done moon sequence for the past two weeks.  I’ve been needing something quiet, something grounding, something that I can close my eyes to and just feel.

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The sensations may have passed for now, but there is a pooling of inspiration…of creativity…of hope.

I emailed Matthew a couple of days ago:

If I look into my future (and I know that’s not very power of now), I can see happiness for me.  It’s this whole creating a new reality, a new world.  I know what that world looks like.  When we did our meditation and asked Divine it came back time and time again – to write and to teach.

I asked whether he would consider me as a student for his teacher-training course in 2014.

He said yes.  :  )

I know its far away, but my now is putting the building blocks into place.  Finding work that I want to do…that will help me get there.  Paying off my debts, signing on if I need to…I need to…settling into and developing my practice.  Exploring, learning, being happy in my now, knowing that this is all building towards an even happier future.

By the time I arched into my final backbend, I had my to-do list for the day scribbled onto a piece of paper, and perhaps, most inspiring of  all, I had ideas written down.  After I sign on, email some friends, catch up on CVs, I’m going to brush the dust off the cover of “First we Play Music” (my first real attempt of a book), and start again.

I don’t have to throw it away.  I don’t have to scrap it.  I just need a different angle.  Carry that original story with me, into something new, into something I’m starting to feel excited about….

Staying present

It’s about a year ago that I found out Brendan had died.  I use “about” as if I only remember the approximate time of year, when in fact that 3pm facebook message that came in on the 20th July and cut my witty afternoon banter with Gary and Kelvin stone cold, will never be forgotten.

I’m not entirely sure how I kept myself together, as I stumbled towards the unisex toilets near the Trading division.  Lurched open the door, and crouched by the toilet bowl.  Wretched up half a chocolate muffin, and clamped my teeth down into my hand as I silently screamed.

There was very little thinking involved.  Just convulsions of disbelief, denial, and physical pain.  I knew I had to get home.  That’s all I knew…I had to get home.

Over these past few months I’ve learnt a lot about making contact with your emotions, with your body, to stay present, even through pain.  I wanted to ask in one of our therapy sessions with Matthew, how is it possible to stay present in moments when your body’s natural reaction is to completely shut down?

I lost my hearing, my throat was feeling too tight to breathe through.  I was in a tunnel.  Lights blurring together, and the sound of telephones rattling like a handful of coppers in a tin can.

I crept up to Eugenie’s desk.  Waited silently for her conversation with a colleague to end.  I couldn’t see them, I could just feel her presence to the left of me.

I told her what happened.

Calm and steady, she escorted me across the room back to my desk.  Deftly gathered my things and switched off my computer as I called Adam.

“Pick me up please.”  He didn’t even need to ask why, there must have been something in my tone.

I was about halfway down the winding  stairwell when I caught sight of a couple of concerned gazes, and felt the rush of uncontainable emotion.  I have to get home, became I have to get outside.  The lights were spinning and I held onto Eugenie’s arm.  “I need to get outside!”  Julie followed.

As soon as the revolving door sealed behind us, I let myself go.  Tears, gasping for breath,  “no. this can’t have happened!”  I broke my abstinence from nicotine, and lit a Marlboro with shaking, cramping hands.  Breathed in, and for a moment, for one breath, I felt calm.

It was a cycle.  Rising and falling, from presence to absence, presence to absence.  Moment to moment, crying and spluttering, to numbness and nothing.  Pain to nothing, pain to nothing.  My silences became longer, as I sat beside Adam on our way back to Iffley.  The silences scared him.  “Are you ok?  Talk to me.”  Car jolting as he turned to look at me.  I couldn’t speak.  My tongue was like plasticine.

I made some phone calls.  My dad, my brothers.  Childhood friends over this side of the ocean.

“Are you sitting down?”  starting every conversation.  My senses so acute, I could feel the spark of shock and swelling of grief down the phone.  Then I would go numb.  Head falling heavily into the window pane.

I remember the smell of the hallway.  The pendulum swinging faster and faster, and then slowing down whilst I uncorked a bottle of white and thanked my brother for the emergency stash of  cigarettes.  I went to bed.

Convinced myself I’d got it wrong.  The email was a mistake, a joke.  I’d read it wrong.  How embarrassing it was going to be heading back into work tomorrow.  All a mistake!  What a silly drama I’d created.  Anxious and impatient I wrestled with the log-in.  Draining a glass of wine.  Head spinning.  Heat unfurling across my chest.  Connection dialling…dialing…COME ON!

I pulled facebook up.

Of course there was no mistake.  I shut down completely and slept in my wine-soaked bed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This time – the anniversary of his death – has been creeping up on me over these past few weeks.  I wonder how I’ll feel when the moment arrives and an entire year has passed.  Why are anniversaries so significant to us?

I’ve been wondering what I’ll write, whether I would write at all.  I’m feeling particularly sensitive, and I’ve been listening to his music a lot.  Writing out the lyrics to some of his songs.  Heartbroken by the melancholy in some of them.  Looking through photos of us all when we were kids.  Wanting to reach out to them all, but never quite knowing what to say…

I’m half-way through the tenth version of a letter I’ve been writing for all these months to Brendan’s parents.  Fretting and editing, and starting again.  I figure that the words will come when I’ve made sense of all of this, and until then, I just keep writing my letter.  Pretty sure I’ve misplaced their address again.

I ask, why are anniversaries  so significant to us?  Is it attachment?  Not being able to let go?  You can’t deny the significance of it – the collective pain body has been stirring and building for weeks.  I can feel it, like I feel metta loving kindness..its a connection, a frequency that ties us all together.

Through these next few days, or weeks, I will be working my way through lots of pain, lots of  joy… the whole spectrum of emotion that comes with life, love and death.   Instead of asking why all the time, my hope is quite simple really.  My hope is that I can stay present.

Ayurveda: in dreams

Soooo, I went back for my two-week appointment, having ALMOST followed her guidelines meticulously.  There were a couple of days here and there where I deviated from the food plan and my dedication to crushing three teaspoons of coriander seeds into a glass of water every night waned, but all-in-all I was feeling like a good…I want to say student instead of patient.

I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Whether it would be a simple – check up and go – here’s your diet plan for the rest of your life, or a thorough reevaluation.

Having monitored my toilet breaks, written about my emotional ups and downs here on the blog, I’d felt prepared for both, but still, when our conversation got going and some of the more probing questions were introduced I was caught off-guard.

My understanding of the remedies and what they do, and how they make me feel wasn’t particularly acute.  In fact, it was all a bit of a blur.  I knew that one made me hiccup, some had more bitter tastes than others, but how had they changed me?  What were they doing to me?

I’ve decided that over the next two weeks (until my next appointment) this will be my primary focus.

Night Remedy.  1 tsp of dark brown powder mixed into small cup of hot water – “are you sleeping deeply?” she asked me.  I had to think for a bit.

“Yes.  Mostly I am.”  In fact, I’d been sleeping better than I had for a long-time, but every now and again I’d wake up in the night, or feel really groggy the next day.

“Have you been having dreams?”  She continued…and it was then that I drew a blank.  Dreams?  I usually pay really close attention to my dreams.  They’re often incredibly vivid and action-packed, so the fact that I drew a blank, made me assume, “no.  I’m not having dreams.”

It was then that she told me the night-remedy is about encouraging deep sleep, and its in deep sleep that we heal, that we recover.  I am aware of all of this from the yoga and meditation, but realised that now, with the changes in my diet and additional herbal concoctions, this point was particularly prevalent.

My ayurvedic treatment is, much like my meditation, about purging and letting go.  Letting go!  It’s difficult to believe how much stuff I’ve been holding onto.  The weight!  The unbearable weight of it all…and it just keeps falling.

The last two nights I’ve kept a notepad by the side of my bed.  Pen at the ready.  As soon as I wake I make a quick note of the main things I’ve dreamt of.

Friday night – it was traveling and train journeys, amends with estranged friends, and facing up to a far-too-obvious truth regarding an ex-of sorts.

Last night –

36 Henley Street.  Landlords.  Housemates.  Being back there.  New kitchen.  Eating the pizza – lying, making up excuses, feeling guilty.  Don’t lie in the first place.  Don’t eat the pizza!!

A bit random, perhaps, but it relates back to a similar break-through from when I was in meditation.  A traumatizing experience with the blue bucket.

Day 2 – soooo restless and bored (now that I wasn’t allowed to sleep in my rest breaks and private meditation).  Decided to give myself a make-shift pedicure.  Hmmmm….blue bucket.  Right, fill up the blue bucket with hot water and soap.  Place bucket on floor by bed, soak right foot, sit back and relax.  Ahhhh, this meditation malarkey isn’t so bad.  A few minutes have passed.  Time to empty the bucket…but my foot’s going to drip across the floor.  So, I cleverly decide to hop, and slide my feet towards the shower drain.  A LITTLE bit of pressure on the floor of the bucket, but ah well.  Sure it’ll be fine.   Now its time for the left foot.  Hot water and soap in the bucket, left foot placed into the bucket, lean back and relax….hot water everywhere!  Seeping, from a thin crack in the sky-blue plastic.  Fuck!

Now, any normal person would have mopped up the water, gone to management, told them about the bucket and requested a new one.

I, on the other hand, went through 4 distinct stages.

1) Denial.  Rest of day 2 – day 4.  It must have been there before.  I can’t believe they gave me a broken bucket!

2) Partial Acceptance  – day 4.  Ok.  It was me.  I broke the bucket… what the hell do I do about it?  Panic, fear, will they charge me for it, can I swap it with somebody else?

3) Make-shift Resolution – day 5 – shower-cap on the bottom of bucket = no more spillage!  Hoorah (short-lived).

4) Taking responsibility for my actions.  Day 7 – particularly intense day of meditation, in which I identified this whole bucket scenario as being symptomatic of a much much greater issue.  Recognition – Acceptance – Dissolution.  If I was going to start to combat this destructive pattern, then I’d have to face up to the bucket once and for all.

Day 9 – I marched up to management – bucket in tow, and in my noble-silence sign language admitted my mistake, made my apologies and held my breath waiting for the consequences.  She looked at me, confused as fuck…

That bucket, much like this pizza I ate in my dream, haunted and taunted me, creating so much guilt, and stress, that could have been avoided if I’d just throw my hands up into the air and say straight off the bat, “I’m sorry, I’ve been a dick and done something stupid”

Where has this crippling fear of making mistakes arisen from?  All I can do, and what I’ve learnt, is that it doesn’t really matter what the root cause is as such.  If you can break the habit in the now, then all the past stresses and weight unravels.  It gets stripped out of you, along with the root cause, and you are set free.

Since my return from Thailand I’ve been making a conscious effort to stop lying.  It’s usually about things like agreeing to things that I don’t really want to do, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, or saying I like something when I don’t, covering up a spillage on the carpet, or hiding empty wrappers of chocolate bars…in breaking the habit its manifesting as the panic-striken yell of, “SUE!  I’VE MADE A MISTAKE!”  Bobbles from the window blinds sucked up into the hoover; declining an invitation to a party because I just can’t afford it;  no more elaborate excuses and just admitting to my Ayurveda dr I’d double-booked, any chance of rescheduling?!

It’s surprisingly hard, and I find myself going down the path of creativity and pulling myself back in again.  NO!  TRUTH Laura – TRUTH!  Plain and simple.  Perhaps it will get easier in time, and these dreams will leave me.  Perhaps even just admitting it, and being open about this particular struggle of mine will help me to let go of whatever it is.

Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling so much with this whole job-seeking thing…because as recruitment processes stand its going against this new-found determination.  I came across a job I felt excited about the other day.  The salary’s lower than what I was on before I went away, but it was the first company that invited people to apply – and be creative, be them!  How refreshing it was, and how fearless I felt in getting in touch and saying this is me…if I’m a fit – GREAT let’s chat, if not, it doesn’t matter.

It reminded me that its worth holding out to find the right job…the one that encourages balance in an individual – celebrates it.

Whenever I feel that fear creeping up, like when I’m standing at the till in the Oxfam shop, and have to press the buttons just right, I take a step back…look around me…if I make a mistake so what?  The manager behind me is smiling away, ready to help if I need her, the customer is smiling away too, probably thinking, “Ah, bless.  Volunteer on her first day!”  I think back to that wonderful TED lecture that Tamsin posted on my blog ages ago…Ken Robinson’s “schools kill creativity”.

If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original….[in business] we stigmatize mistakes….[in education] mistakes are the worst things we can make…as a result we are educating people out of their creative capacities

(if the link’s broken – try this:

In Ayurvedic terms my constitution is predominantly Vata.  When in balance this is movement, creativity, generating of ideas and thinking quickly.  Then I am Kapha – which is grounded and caring.   Wanting to look after people.  But when we go through a competitive “Pitta” education system which gears us up for an even more competitive working environment, then where does that leave the Vata/Kapha types?  On a back foot…out of balance.

If I take an even bigger step back, I can see why this stage in my life, this point of transition is so fundamentally important.  Look around us.  The education system Ken Robinson pulls into question in such an inspiring manner, the  distrust we have in business, in the banks, in our politicians.  Our POLITICIANS!  I went to boarding school for two years, and watching them heckle and bully in the house of commons is about as inspiring as getting caught in the cross-fire of the absurd abuse of the Wargrave and Gonville boys in the Common Room when I was 17.  It’s a disgrace.

Where do we go from here?  What are our alternatives?

I guess we have to start from inside.  Each one of us.  My Ayurvedic dr says its important to stay true to yourself, echoing the advice of Matthew, of Goenka, of all these inspiring people who are helping so many others to find balance and happiness.

I can see my path, where I’m headed.  It’s the now, it’s the short-term that I’m struggling with.   And perhaps that’s because right now, I’m still out of balance.  I still have a lot of purging to do, and habits to break.  In being patient and holding out for a job that encourages creativity and individuality then perhaps I will break one of my most crippling lifetime habits of all.  In breaking with the system, I lose that fear.  I find truth and balance.

4th July 2012

6.04 am – On the train into Brighton.  Mysore in the shala.  Looking forward to it : )

8.05 am  – Drinking tea in a coffee shop.  AHHHH – yoga was glorious!  Got a lot of adjusting in Trichonasana.  Not sure what I was doing wrong, but felt very shaky and nearly fell over.  She helped me with my forward folds, releasing my lower back.  Felt amazing!  In Chaturanga I’m to hold my weight at elbow height before “riding the wave” because my shoulders are getting bunched up and might cause problems later.

Thought it was all going rather well, feeling a little bit lighter today and breathing was good, and then I got asked that dreaded Mysore Ashtanga question.  It was just after my hippity, hoppity jump-through, which is a rather fun adjustment to help me get from step to jump through in my vinyasas.  Its to strengthen my core and arms.  In time…I assume…my feet won’t press against the mat at all…they’ll just lift and float through like a JEDI!

Until then, I hippity-hop, and then I heard that quiet, kind voice, “Who were you with before?”

Even though it was said in the least leading way possible, it’s still quite possibly the most weighted “mysore” question in the world.  It has any number of connotations…

1) “WOW, who were you with?” Aka – amazing!  Check out that nifty little adjustment!

2) “OMG, who were you with?” Aka – what the hell is going on there?  Sigh…can see I have a lot of stuff to un-teach; OR, and most likely….

3) “You were with someone?”

I instantaneously felt proud, protective and paranoid.

9-10 am – wandering about in the rain, waiting for the library to open.

10 am – settled into a maladjusted chair, disregarding the intricate booking in systems.  JOBS!  JOBS!  JOBS!  Slow internet, but how heart-warming it is to see the place so busy.  Still can’t quite get my head around the fact that the 6 books in my bag are free for me to read!  It’s like a non-virtual search engine.

10.30 am – old man yelled at me…”Can YOU stay on YOUR side!!  I’m trying to do something!!!”  Sympathetic stares from an otherwise polite group of fellow job-seekers.

11 am – Kicked off the computers for any number of reasons….the old man, not booking in….the assistant buyer role for Anne Summers I was looking at, “SEX TOYS” and “dare to unleash your talent” glaring across the screen for all to see…

Little bit grumpy.  Have got better at filtering, but essentially the process is still just as laborious.

Another wander, rain has stopped…let’s go outside…Ahhhh, what’s this?

A hard-back copy of The Wonders of Brian Cox, the unauthorised biography of the man who brought science to the nation.

I find a park-bench near the Brighton Pavilion, open the cover, and low and behold, there in simple print:

I laughed out loud, and let myself fall into the world of Brian Cox – a man who, against the odds,  followed his dreams.

I want to bring my Vipassana rendition to an end.  Mainly because I’m getting confused with all this toing and froing in time, and with so much that I learnt resonating through my daily life I’m beginning to think that looking back isn’t wholly necessary.

I had a few doubts towards the end, as to whether it was right for me.  If it was in fact, the answer to everything.

However, I’ve just had my application for another retreat in November approved, to which I will be an old student, and must adhere to 8 precepts instead of 5.  This includes not sleeping on a high and comfortable bed, and no food after midday.  I figure, despite some of the resistance I feel, it must really be the answer to something, otherwise why would I put myself through it all again so soon?

I have always been attracted to extremes.  And when Geonka describes the whole retreat process as being like performing an operation on yourself, but without the anaesthetic, I think he’s really onto something.  Once you’ve opened yourself and have started to drain all this puss and gunk out of you, its inevitable that you spot something else that needs your attention before you close yourself up again.  You just can’t cope with it all at once.  You need to take some time out to heal and rebuild your strength.  Learn how to integrate back into society and return to the complexity of human relationships that will have undoubtedly altered.  In some cases it’s for the better.  Festering resentment and grudges absolved, renewed love and affection, a rush of forgiveness and compassion.  In other cases, the relationships seem to fade out.  What drew you together once, is no longer there.  Perhaps what is most difficult of all is  some of the negative responses to the changes in you.  I’ve seen happiness be met with anger, and affection with contempt.  One of the greatest and most terrifying things is with all this opening up and inner work, comes significant vulnerability.  You want to share everything, open up to everyone around you, express love and with this experimentation its inevitable that you’ll hit brick wall after brick wall, and in some cases a lashing out.  Whilst you begin to see your own reflection in judgments of others, others don’t necessarily feel ready to see themselves at all.

It can feel a bit heavy at times, taking on “you’re this” and “you’re that”, “you should” and “you could” on top of the greatest critic of all – “I”.

But that’s all part of it.  Looking inwards is always a good place to start, but eventually you have to look at yourself in relationship to others.   I described it to a friend as the intrinsic link between looking inwards and the universe.

Its like your attention gets so finely tuned into something so small, well molecular, that instead of reaching an understanding of that molecular experience, you end up understanding the stars and the planets, without really knowing how you got there.

This intrinsic link I haven’t quite got my head around, is something about the paths we take.  You can either study the universe and the solar systems and get lost in the billions and trillions of light-years and space, or you can sit cross-legged on a cushion and study the sensations of patch of skin to patch of skin, and whatever path you take, you essentially reach the same conclusion.  We are nothing, we are everything, we are all the same.   It’s a universal truth if ever there was one, so why is it so difficult to accept?

I’ve decided that I want a bit of both.  To continue along this path of self-evaluation.  To occasionally experience the effervescence of my existence, or non-existence, whatever it is, all the while laughing to myself, “I AM quantum physics!” as I furrow my brow and try to understand all the scientific terminology Dr Brian Cox somehow turns into poetry.

Professor Brian Cox, speaking at the Royal Ins...

Professor Brian Cox, speaking at the Royal Institution, London, 26 November 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I return to the Ayurvedic clinic in 3 days time to evaluate my progress and see whether all these potions and strict diet regulation has had its desired effect: has it brought down my pitta, and brought my Vata-Kapha constitution back into balance?

Anticipating the spectrum and detail of questions that lay ahead, I think I might start monitoring these next three days closely, and see where I’m at.

As an overview, I can say that physically there still seems to be some imbalances happening.  Trips to the toilet are still rather frequent and unceremonious, and my sinuses are playing up, (Pitta and Kapha traits), but my skin is clear and soft, where it was dry and flaky (Vata), and my eyes, whilst still a bit heavy in the morning, are no longer blood-shot (Pitta).  I have more energy, sleeping better, but my body is cracking and popping a lot in practice (Vata).  So what I’m seeing are elements of each dosha flaring up at different times and now I’m starting to be able to recognise that, it really is quite wonderfully liberating.  Ayurveda translates as life knowledge, and even if I’m not completely in balance, my awareness of my body and my surroundings is becoming more sensitive and finely tuned.  Maybe that’s not down to Ayurveda in itself, and more a combination of the yoga and meditation, but I think they’re all just incredibly useful tools, that when used in collaboration, are truly empowering.

So – take my practice for instance.  90 minutes spent with such close attention to my physical body, my breath and its movement allows me to identify any differences, changes…how am I responding to the intensity, the heat?  Do I feel energised or lethargic?  Would I prefer moon or primary?  Am I feeling dense and heavy, or light?  What’s the state of my mind?  Am I  focused and have my teeth clenched, or a bit scatty with a silly smile on my face?   Am I getting angry about the poses I can’t get into, skipping them all together just to get to Savasana, or dreading Savasana with crazy monkey perched gleefully on my shoulder, waiting with strumming fingertips to dive into my brain and create a whole bunch of chaos?  Each variant of the above tells me what particular dosha is in excess, or depletion, and even though I’m at the beginning of all of this, I am starting to get an inkling, or have ideas of what I can do to help to reign it all in.

Ayurveda isn’t just about diet (although I think that is where my greatest gap in knowledge is in this particular moment), but our surroundings and environment.  Is it a stupidly hot day?  (Probably not  – it’s the UK). But just imagine it is, then a really intense, faster paced Primary series probably isn’t my best choice.  If it’s a bit cold, and I need a bit of a jump-start then primary it is.  The people around us.  How are we reacting to them?  One of the first triggers that got me to the Ayurvedic clinic in the first place was an uncharacteristic irritability and misplaced frustration.  i was aware enough at the time (largely due to the meditation) that it wasn’t about anyone else or my situation…it was about me.  My inability to cope was an imbalance somewhere….and I needed help from someone to put it right.

Putting the physical symptoms and effects to one side, in just 11 days I’m a new person emotionally and mentally.  My circumstances haven’t changed.  Employment still eludes me, with an incrementally higher degree of pressure….(checked my bank balance yesterday), weather’s still shit, and I’m as single as I was when I turned 30, but I can process it.  Deal with it.

On Sunday I was travelling back from London on the train.  A rare blast of sunlight penetrated the glass and washed my face with heat.  I could have been in Burma in that moment, riding the bus from Inle Lake to Bagan, two monks sitting across the aisle, that light inside
me beaming away.   I opened my eyes.  This was England, and I can still feel that joy.

It’s not been easy coming back.  It still isn’t.  There are elements of my trip that I miss sometimes.  Such as the undercurrents of compassion and acceptance of a Buddhist society, the hilarious jokes about opening chakras and gate-crashing tantric workshops, that can only really be appreciated by the circle of friends I grew to love in Bamboo.  But there’s always skype, and for fear of pulling you into a world that really doesn’t make sense, when I close my practice with Metta loving-kindness meditation, I can feel other people doing it too.  It’s a connection above and beyond social media, its something that you feel right there in your centre.

I guess where I’m at, 11 days into my Ayurvedic treatment, and one month back from my incredible adventure, is back to a place of acceptance.  The lessons I’d learnt, I feared I’d lost, and yet with all these challenges I’ve faced and knock-backs, I’ve come back to  “This is my body, and this is real.”  How amazing it feels to know inside, without a doubt, that despite everything, I’m on the right path and I’m still moving forwards.

Still buzzing from the heroics of close friends I fling open the curtains, roll the mat out, bypass meditation…far too energised to sit still for an hour…and launch into my Om and Ashtanga song.  Getting quite confident until I get to “jangalikayamane” where I just can’t seem to get all the syllables out with any sense of rhythm.  Pick it up again, until the next stumbling block, “pran…an…an…, or mi???”

Om.  Right.  Close my eyes, let the chipper Monday morning voices run away with silly thoughts for a bit…now breathe in.  Raise hands above head, look up to thumbs, fold forward, breathe out.  Ahhhh….nothing quite like that first forward fold.  Body popping and creaking but invigorated as blood starts to rush about.  Cheeks flushed a healthy pink, breathe in, look up.  Now, I could jump back…I have the energy…but have a long practice ahead of me, so I step back instead, breathing out as I lower my body into plank, shoulders burning ever so slightly, nose almost touching the floor.  Mulah Bandha, mulah bandha, Prem’s voice echoes through my practice still.  I rock gently on my palms and feet before lowering my upper body and riding the wave up into upward facing dog.  Slowly, slowly, head stays level until your back is fully arched, and then, you roll your head back.  Chest expanding, shoulders sloped, oxygen bursting  through you, fold back into downward-facing dog, breathe out.  Hips up, back straight, palms flat, angled ever so slightly to the corners of the room, heels sinking, sinking…ahhh, there they go, making that reassuring contact with the mat.  Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, I see how my body feels, whether its light and opens quickly, or stiff and a bit heavy…today its neither.  Just plain steady.

Despite the insurgence of inspiration very little has changed in my practice.  Head is creeping slowly closer to the floor in Prasarita Padottanasana, leg slowly straightening in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana balance maintained as I extend my leg to the side and look over my other shoulder.  Marichyasanas are still a buggar!  Breath gets sharper, heavier, deeper, can feel the fire in my stomach, start to sweat.  Organs are being wrung out.  Hell of a way to start the day.  I get closer to my nemesis – Bhujapidasana.

“Today is the day!”  I whisper to myself as I get through, a very shaky post-navasana vinyasa, and prepare for…wait for it…wait for it…bloody Bhujapidasana.

Thighs wrapped around forearms, palms pressed firmly into the ground, I shuffle my feet closer together, elbows pressing out, thighs pressing in, hips opening, core muscles trembling, breathing breathing…I lift my feet off the ground, rocking, rocking…have I got it, have I got it???


Crashing to the floor, arse on display, fuck it!

Vinyasa flow disrupted entirely, I take some time to attempt it again, and again.  Break the pose down, step by step, breath by breath, and patiently get there.  Feet off the floor, I rested on my elbows for 10 seconds, shaking all over.  I’m doing it, I’m doing it!!!  And then, AHHHH, back to the floor in fits of laughter.

Perhaps today is not the day, but with time and patience I’ll get there : )

“Practice and all is coming” – Sri Krisna Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009)

She did warn me….

That emotions were going to come up, that it was going to be difficult….

But flippin’ heck!  It’s not just been the odd sniffle during a film, or having a bit of a cry in the shower…its been torrential, stomach-clutching….what’s wrong with me?  type crying.

How can this stuff still be in me?  I continue to shy away from it, hide from it…feel ashamed of it.  Why is it so hard to just embrace it and let it go?  What’s with that feeling that it needs to be justified…you have to analyse it, intellectualize it, mask it behind something…when surely its one of the truest things you go through.  That feeling inside, the relief as it comes flooding out, and how empty you are, when it starts to slowly subside.

I think I’ve put some pressure on myself.  Having spent these last few months doing so much inner-work, with all the yoga, meditation and travel, I think that the sense of stability and happiness it built up inside me should still be there.  That ability to find everything around me beautiful was something I thought might stay with me a little longer.  I feel guilty, and I feel fearful that it has all gone so quickly.

But that’s not the case at all.  I’m starting to feel lighter.  All this emotional upheaval would ordinarily stiffen everything up, create tension in my hips and body, act as a barrier in my morning practice…but yesterday I went through the sequence with great focus and steadiness.  I sunk into my hips without too much resistance.  I did all the add-ons that Matthew taught us…the standing back-bends, and 30 breaths in Baddha Konasana.  With such a positive experience behind me, I began to prepare myself for lotus in the finishing sequence.  Sat up straight, lengthened my left leg in front of me, scooped up my right foot and gently eased it into position, cradling it firmly in my hands, careful of the knee, breathing into the hip.  I sat there for a few breaths.  Summoning the courage, the determination before I bent my left leg, and let it rest on the floor in the shape of a right angle.  This is it.  You can do it Laura!  I lifted the left leg by the calf and foot and felt the muscles clench and tighten as I pulled it towards me.

Easing through the stiffness, respecting the sensations of my lower body, and paying attention to my breathe…it was ok…it was ok.  Closer and closer the heel of my foot came towards me, until I was ready to let it go… And look at that!  I’m in lotus.  If you could have seen the trauma and fuss this position has caused me over the past few months. The way I screamed “FUUCCKKKK!” into Matthew’s patient ear when he was helping me into it, showing me how I could practice this at home…and there I am….In lotus!  Not quite as elegant and natural looking as my fellow yogis, but its a lotus all the same.

It was an important moment for me, because it marked progress at a time when I felt I was sinking back to where I was 6 months ago.  It was a reminder that everything takes patience, practice and perseverance.   Life is not going to be easy now because I’ve sat cross-legged in a meditation hall for ten days, and spent several months in a shala.   And I wouldn’t want it to be.  I will still struggle to remain compassionate to myself and others.  I will still crave the comforts of things that are bad for me, and have strong aversions to things that are ultimately good…like finding a job!  I will still struggle to maintain contact with the present moment when I’m faced with things that are hostile, or uncomfortable.  I will have doubts sometimes, and lose confidence that this path is the right one for me…like when my younger brother walks in on me practicing and laughs uncontrollably, or when my heart stops at the sight of my ever-diminishing bank balance.   But in moments like getting into lotus, it pulls me back together.  With a practice such as this, nothing external can ever take it away.  Despite the storm of tears and emotional instability I currently find myself in, I know that there’s strength in there too.

Today is day 5 of my Ayurveda treatment, and already things are starting to perk up again.  My alarm went off at 5.  I was on the train by 6, and introducing myself to my new Ashtanga teacher by 6.30.  Her name is Sarah, and she’s kind and softly spoken, and I like her.  I really do.  She was encouraging without being pushy, and helped me to bind into Marichyasana B on both sides, and D on the left.  Which is like lotus x10!!  I’ve been paused there…and that’s ok.   I’m happy with that.  I accept now that its ok to take a couple of steps back sometimes and reassess.  It’s not a failure. I’ve come a long way, this is just a healthy pause to regain strength and stamina in a really, really tough practice.