This is the post I’ve been avoiding writing. I don’t really want to talk about Thailand, but as I strolled along the coast this evening, on a hot humid Sydney summer’s night, I rediscovered the urge to type. So here we are.
My ten weeks in Thailand ended in mid-December, I flew back into Australia riding the crest of a huge wave of optimism and excitement. It would take at least ten long-winded blog posts to try to accurately and fully portray the extent of the experience. The chakra yoga teacher training I had just completed was the biggest mental rollercoaster of my life. I went in thinking it would mostly be about the physical aspect of yoga, the asanas, the hatha yoga, but in reality that was just a part of it. I underestimated the depth of the soul-searching, the bringing to the surface and subsequent processing of stored, nay, repressed emotions, the hours upon hours of meditations, pranayama (breath work), teachings and questioning. The course pulled no punches when it came to taking us students to the deepest, darkest parts of our souls, exposing the parts that have been carefully and safely hidden away for decades. There were periods of the ten weeks where I personally felt completely broken, completely undone, completely lost. There is a reason those places had remained hidden. Fortunately it also took me to places of sheer bliss, states of joy that were so beautiful they were almost impossible to believe they were real, let alone describe in words to you here on this page. I’ve taken my fair share of MDMA at trance raves down years, I’ve felt blissful union with the music and my fellow man (trance raves are nearly always total man-fests) on the dancefloor, but none of those past experiences came close to some of what I felt on that pristine island in the Gulf of Thailand. The best way to articulate it is a feeling of joyous love and connection with the universe and everything and everyone in it. Complete and total love. Sheer relief that something bigger exists. Never before have I felt such divine connection to the Earth beneath my toes and the stars above my head, and probably most importantly, acceptance and love of my own being.
Some of you reading that may scratch your head and ask the question “but what has that got to do with yoga?” I hear you. In our Western culture, in a place where yoga is offered as a class at your average gym it would be easy to assume that yoga is an exercise class designed to strengthen your core, tone your legs and loosen the muscles in your back, and whilst, yes, they can be a positive outcome of a regular yoga practice, yoga is in fact the oldest science and system of health we have still in existence. Yoga is estimated to be five thousand years old, but the reality is that no one really knows how old it is. We know from some VERY old artwork that the ancient Egyptians practiced something that looks a lot like yoga, so who knows. ‘Yoga’ translated means ‘union’, union of the mind, body and soul, it is a very detailed eight-pronged approach to living a healthy, honest, good, happy, successful and spiritual life. The physical ‘Hatha’ element of yoga is just one of these eight limbs. A regular, and preferably daily, practice of Hatha yoga is designed to keep the body in tip-top physical shape so that our bodies may be free of disease and support the mind in its quest for knowledge and enlightenment, and therefore enable that body to support the being that relies upon it – to fulfill its ‘dharma’, or purpose. What we in the West have adopted as an exercise class, is in fact just designed to lay the foundations for spiritual development. Turns out, the handstand is not the end goal.
The course I was called to attend turned out to be an introduction to all eight of those limbs, the true yoga, the science of yoga. So not only did the three to four hours of daily hatha yoga open up my bodily tissues, the other six or seven hours of class per day opened up my mind, and my being, to the very nature of the universe, and the infinite possibilities that exist within this life, and perhaps the next, and the next, and the next. What quickly became apparent (and to be honest wasn’t really a surprise) is that my mind, like many, if not nearly all of our minds, is a complicated, tangled up mess of conditioning. I am prone to overthinking, worrying, anxiety, and exhausting rumination of thoughts that go round and round in circles. Experiences and inputs of other people’s knowledge through my life, and my interpretation of those experiences have essentially created a large cloud of thinking that separates me from my true being. The course, and specifically the seventy-something year old Canadian man who has been running it for forty-plus years, set out to at first; bring my awareness to the conditioning; then understand the conditioning; then start the painful process of removing the conditioning; and then finally, how to rise above such trivial matters and find the path to enlightenment. It was at times torturous.
When I left that island some six weeks ago I have to admit that I thought I had figured it out, perhaps not job done, but at the very least, major breakthroughs achieved and serious progress made. I was finally ready to start living life as it was meant to be lived, free of the old worries, doubts, self questioning, and dare I say it, occasional self-loathing. There was a new decade on the horizon, I was turning 36 in a matter of weeks, the slate was wiped blank, this was it. I felt a million dollars.
And then I landed back in Australia and the ground started to shake beneath my feet. Turns out you cannot completely re-program thirty five years of programming in eight weeks. You can however bring attention to the fact that programming exists and the faults in the code.
Six weeks on and here I am writing, wishing, dear reader, that I could tell you that I have maintained that upwards trajectory. I wanted to be able to sit here and give you all the answers. I left that island ready to buy a piece of land, set up a retreat centre and invite everyone who needs it to come and study with me. Anyone who suffers with anxiety, with doubt, with depression, with illness, everyone was going to be welcome. The messiah has returned from his quest and is here to save you all. LOL. No, instead what has happened is that I have returned to my familiar environment, but instead of feeling like I’m home I feel like an alien. My brain still wants to constantly jump into the default programming, but now there’s another part of me not accepting of that programming. I am, essentially, in battle with myself. The past three weeks have been spent walking around Sydney feeling like an outsider, disconnected from the people, disconnected from nature, and disconnected from myself. On Koh Phangan I had a tribe of people all going through a similar experience, together we studied, and practiced, and exercised, and danced, and cried. Supportive shoulders and long healing hugs were readily available and freely given. Yes it was tough, but we were in it together. As the course wore on I felt incrementally better, both physically and mentally, by the time I left I felt like a different person. Chris 2.0. Now back in Sydney, removed from the clean air, the jungle surroundings, the tribe, and probably to some extent, the daily schedule, I am almost ashamed to admit that I am, at least for the moment, somewhat lost. It’s an interesting time.
This is, however, not a surprise. Speaking to other students it seems this is a fairly normal turn of events. One does not simply have a spiritual awakening and then smoothly transition into the perfect life. The reality is far messier. An ancient Chinese proverb states”
“it is a path best never taken, but if started, must be completed”.
It’s too late for me, the work started several years ago, thrust upon me by ill health, but here I am, this is life, this is the path I have chosen, there is no going back, only forwards, I have come to accept that the path will have its ups and downs. This is true for all of us, I am not special. This is life. Thailand was a series of ups and downs, it was foolish of me to think that this period would be any different. There is no option other than to accept that this is what I must experience in this moment, so that I may learn what I need to in order to continue on the path.
At this moment I am adapting back to my urban environment, but I long to be with the trees. I wish more than anything to be surrounded by my friends and family, but when faced with friends in recent weeks I’ve been unable to relax and fully appreciate their company. It’s like my body is shouting at me “Oi, get back to that place where we felt good!” However, I recognise that returning to Thailand would be going backwards, and to be honest I harbour no desire to live out my days in South East Asia. No, I have to face the discomfort, adapt, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Tonight I realised that I needed to write, this was the next step. Next week I go back to work after seven wonderful months, but my savings most definitely have not been happy about it. Another step. Keep going.