Today I noticed a street sign, lazily set there next to a taqueria on St. Marks. It's neon markered letters read "there's no substitute for the real thing." Oh what wisdom you proclaim lowly street sign! Truly, once you experience the real thing, any substitution becomes lack luster. I've made my yoga life a hunt for the real thing. Happily, I've been lucky enough to find it.
Satsang and parampara - these are the real deal. Without them I would not be where and what I am today. They go together like peanut butter and jelly and support each other like abhyasa and vairagya. Parampara is the spine containing all the nerves ready to pass information from the brain to the body. Satsang is the body housing the spine with all it seemingly separate parts which nonetheless form a whole system ready to communicate with the brain. Together the body and mind can do amazing things, things neither one could do alone.
It starts with knowledge - someone's got it and I want it. This is the essence of parampara, the passing of knowledge. The method is so beautiful in its simplicity: teacher teaches student who eventually becomes teacher that teaches student and so on through the inexorable march of time. But parampara has a great caveat, one our modern culture has difficulty with, and that is that it takes time.
Lots and lots of time.
I've gone to great lengths to study in the ashtanga lineage. I used to assist my teacher, trading hard labor for a chance to learn, two hours a day five days a week for years in addition to my own highly demanding physical practice. I've traveled to India for months at a time to wake up at 2am to be ready to start practice before four. I still routinely wake at 3:30am to practice what my teachers have taught before my students arrive for instruction. I brought a teacher halfway across the country to teach an intensive at my little program on Bleecker Street so that my students and I could have the privilege of studying with her (more on this later). All this I have done voluntarily (though I cannot claim without complaint) because someone else had knowledge and I wanted it.
These efforts, by themselves, have a couple negative drawbacks. Exhaustion and loneliness easily creep into a traditional ashtanga practice. There must be a mechanism in place to avoid the eventual despondency that is bred by exhaustion and lonliness. Satsang is the buoy that keeps me afloat, lifting my head above the dark waves of the predawn solo practice.
Satsang is surrounding yourself with the right kind of people. The type of people that give more to the community than they take. People that, like me, are searching for experience beyond the mundane. The type of people that clear away the unnecessary and provide what is lacking. Typically, these people are not difficult to find; often they are provided by parampara. They can be mentors, family members, friends, or students and certainly this list is not exhaustive. Some take a little more effort to hold onto, like caring for a lovable and unruly puppy - others you can't seem to shoo away, like the old cat that has decided to nap in your lap. The satsang will support you in your times of want, of which there will be many, and celebrate with you in your times of plenty, of which there will also be many.
I was recently reminded of the power of satsang and parampara. A necessary and vibrant reminder for me whose predawn world becomes cloudy from time to time. My morning Mysore program Bleecker Street Ashtanga at Sacred Sounds Yoga hosted Louise Ellis for a four day intensive that brought satsang and parampara together with the dramatic results of flint and tinder. A fire was lit in the attendees who came from shalas throughout the city, country, and hemisphere. I expect this fire will smolder for quite sometime, waiting patiently for more fuel with which to ignite and give warmth and light.
Louise was described by an attendee as, "A sun warmed lake, still on the surface, deep and calm." Louise is many things that I am not, but aspire to be: gentle where I am hard, quiet where I am loud, and specific where I am general. Serene power radiates from her and is immediately picked up by those around her. Her grace and ease in asana and while teaching are a sight to behold. Louise has the real stuff: parampara, the knowledge I want and satsang, the supportive community I enjoy.
Here's to seeing you again soon "granny." Thank you for everything.