This, then, is a story about process and connection. It may not make perfect sense to everyone but the ones who need to will hear the message. I wrote it in a bit of a stream of consciousness and it is taking ALLL of my determination not to break it down and try to rewrite 200 times to make it into some kind of perfect essay! So let this also be a source of inspiration to those of you who are trying to start something but feel caught in the crippling desire to do it perfectly.
This is a call to all of you to find a way to tell your story. Your experience is invaluable. Sharing what you know, taking the time to recognize how you have come to view the world around you will help us create a truer vision of who we are as a collective humanity. It will help us build connections and find our commonality – especially valuable and necessary when we face challenges to the way we understand the world in the form of perceived threats to our sense of who we are – what we believe in – our very identities.
There was a moment in my life, around 7 years ago when I was fully immersed in the Ganges river. I was in India. And I was sick and wild and starry eyed, wandering around a place called Rishikesh at the foot of the Himalaya mountains. Achraf laid up at the hotel, fed up, nursing an ugly stage of culture shock by disappearing into the TV screen dancing with Bollywood films.
All the yoga halls were closed in this hot, unusually rainless August monsoon season.
But I wandered anyway – until I stumbled upon a woman who was on her way to take a dip in the Ganges. She was Korean, if I remember correctly. She had a carefree air about her. Traveling alone, somehow enthusiastic, curious and almost aloof at all once. I followed her down to some concrete steps leading right down into the river. Chatting intermittently, each taking moments to gaze across the water, bringing our attention within, my new companion and I lowered ourselves in to the water.
Yeah I know it’s dirty. I know it is becoming quite toxic due to the cremations, bathing, and other toileting in and near the water. It’s a shame. But in the moment, and where I was, there was no visible filth. And I was totally absorbed by the exhilarating energy that seemed to be coursing through me. That was India.
There is a lot of moving energy in India. I witnessed and experienced what seemed to be a microcosm of the world. There were so many people. All different colors, hundreds (over 1,000?) languages spoken, all major religions represented. And still through all this difference, there was a shared culture, a spirit, a complex sociology. I felt that I was in a place of distinctly concentrated life energy. I don’t know how else to describe this.
In India, I tuned in to the presence and influence of Islam and yoga, Arabic names, Sanskrit language and Hinduism. Living in the UAE at the time of this trip, I had been steeping in the Islamic world for over 9 years. For just as long, I had been practicing and studying yoga avidly. Taking classes daily when living in the US, and continuing my practice alone on my travels, working through the images and instruction in BKS Iyengar’s, Light on Yoga.
From the very first time I was invited into a mosque in Casablanca with the intention to pray with the other observers one Ramadan night in 2005, I recognized that prescribed Islamic prayer prostrations and the movements through a yoga sun salutation were deeply intertwined. This was important to me because I felt increasingly grounded within both practices. And this was the link that brought it all home for me.
Perhaps strangely, I found that yoga was a kind of an American aspect for me – in the beginning. It was an acceptable form of spiritual practice in the circles of educated liberal urban youth I ran in where religion was strongly frowned upon. As I had entered my fifth year of living in Morocco and developing an ever-deepening sense of connection and relationship with Moroccan people and culture, I started to explore different aspects of practicing Islam. I took an interest in the messages of the Qur’an and when I had the opportunity to follow my friend’s mother in law to the mosque that first time, I accessed a state of deep calm and connection to a Source of energetic being that I had only ever known in yoga practice.
Four years later I would approach my master’s degree program advisor and tell her that it was my chief aim to find and define this connection between yoga and Islam. I am chuckling to myself now when I think about how determined I was – that this would reveal something seismic. What I came up with in that effort was a study of human consciousness – the experience of what it is to be – from behind the lens we all develop, even subconsciously, through the layers of culture, family, language, gender association and more.
Even more what I have learned from my continued movement through yoga and Islam – including the practical applications, philosophical study and the cultural inquiry of the worlds, people, societies these practices are attached to – is how to take the reins of my own consciousness. I can make choices about how I feel, perceive and experience the world. I am not obliged to be dragged along on an impulse. I can see very clearly how all things are constructed by our minds and that freedom to create something other than whatever is spinning through the old mind – recording now.
We have the power to recreate who we are from one moment to the next.
Culture is learned.
Fear, Doubt and Hate are learned.
Wild emotions are born from an unsettled mind trying to solve and control things that don’t’ need to be solved or controlled.
The core of our being is love. I know this can sound hokey. I went through years of not quite wrapping my mind around this. But it is true. And seeking a connection across cultures and between unlikely spiritual traditions has shown me all the evidence I need.
When we train ourselves to act from this space, we can achieve states of being – attracting experiences – realizing dreams – making choices where we thought we were trapped – creating a lifestyle that has been burning and glowing in our hearts for longer than we can remember.
Many paths exist to lead us to this goal of self-mastery. All ways for the practitioner to find the gateway to NOW. I have found my path balances on the razor’s edge between ways of being – cultural consciousness – knowing where I come from with the keen willingness to call myself into question as I move through various experiences.
My work now, is to help others learn the art of questioning what they have settled for as truth.
What habits, what beliefs, what attitudes and actions are we falling back on out of comfort, safety and even a fear of change, that are keeping us from expanding into the full expression of our lightness?
How can we be grounded in a sense of belonging, while also being courageous enough to put words and clarity to our visions and giving ourselves full permission to take practical, forward moving action in the direction of our purest dreams and desires?
I’d love to see you in my Facebook community – Worldly Women of Purpose where we work to answer these questions every day, supporting one another on our parallel paths.