Monday, July 19, 2021

Questions About Commitment

 Where and how do our commitments begin?  Today I dwelt on some of my life changing commitments and wondered.  

My commitment to writing happened unexpectedly.  I always liked to write but I never thought of spending much time on it.  

Until my career as a scientist was blown apart and I decided to take a deep breath and face the blank wall in front of me.  Something would appear at some time, the question was, did I have the courage and faith to wait and see what else I could do with my life?  

Yes, I did, and I filled this time with writing - writing just for myself.  I wrote little dramas, poems, children's stories.  I wrote a book about my mother's life.  It turned out that many people wanted to read what I had written, and in due course I found myself taking this task more seriously.  A blog?  I was almost computer illiterate, but why not?  A new column for a college Science journal-  I had never before met or interviewed outstanding Indian scientists, mathematicians and engineers in different parts of the country, but this was something I chose to fill my column with.  Science journalism- yes, of course.  Judging poetry contests in colleges?  I didn't think I was qualified but the colleges seemed to think I was doing all right.

This commitment to writing continues, though I am able to spend much less time on it nowadays.  However, I realised recently that I write almost everyday in some form- especially notes and letters to friends (I do warn people that I write way too much in my letters and I often do not always expect replies).  But writing has now moved beyond work and has helped me to connect and share thoughts with many friends and acquaintances, enriching my life beyond belief.

I can say the same with yoga.  I began learning it mostly because I went through many years of ill health.  I was looking for something to strengthen and heal me from within, something I could do on my own without fancy equipment and most importantly, a philosophy I could relate to.  Yoga provided all these.  

I tried a lot of yoga classes while working- studying with teachers in several cities, reading books and attending workshops.  Nothing seemed to work the way Patanjali (to whom the earliest work on yoga- the yoga sutras - is attributed) had described.  "Do the yoga sutras really work?" I wondered.  "And if they do, can I find a teacher who can help me?"

I did find a teacher.  It was not while I was juggling between studying and running a home.  It happened during the time I was facing the blank wall and was willing to travel to any reasonable city to study with a teacher for a few months.  As it turned out, I did not have to.  There was a teacher (and in my mind, after an extensive search, there was only one teacher in the entire city of Bangalore who I could accept as a teacher).  But would he accept me as a student?  The answer, initially, was "No".

"I don't do therapy," he said.  "And you live 17 km away.  You don't know how to drive.  My asana classes begin at 6 a.m. and go on till 9 a.m.  In the beginning there is unbearable pain, which you will have to bear, and you should not take any painkillers for all this.  I think it is better you find someone closer to your house."

It all seemed intimidating but by tackling one step at a time, I managed to convince the teacher to give me a chance.  After a few days, he told me, "If students don't practice what I tell them, I just ask them to go away."  My heart leapt in shock.  "I must practice!" I told my self desperately.  This is my only chance.  

In all the ten years that I spent in the yoga class, I have in fact never seen my teacher being anything other than compassionate, skilled and patient.  Excessively slow sometimes, I thought- I spent five years requesting him to teach me pranayama (which regular yoga workshops teach in a few minutes of starting).  Anyway, it was a very enjoyable phase of learning, and when my teacher moved to Mysore, I continued at home, on my own.

My teacher did encourage me to teach but I felt I always needed to work on my own practice.  How could I are to teach people when I was not perfect?  It took me a long time to realise that what people are looking for in a teacher is not perfection, but someone who might be able to provide a way to help them.  I never organised a teaching class or looked for students.  But people did come to me for help, one or two at a time, and to my surprise, I found that I was able to apply the methods I had learnt to help them.  

When the time is right, they tell me they have learnt all they wanted to and are now self reliant in their practice.  And so, what I thought was a way to delve into myself has become means to reach out to others who may be looking for a way to get back to a natural state of well being.

Music is my most recent commitment.  Again, I am not quite sure of when I made this commitment because all I was looking for was a way to encourage my son's interest in music.  But it has begun, and though I am singing just for myself, it has already overflowed into my life - we begin the morning with music, we spend the evening in music, it provides a safe refuge when life is at its most demanding, it soothes me as I sleep- and as it does this, my reactions to the world change.  I am perhaps a little calmer, a little more rooted as I face life and - at the same time, I feel as perplexed and insignificant as I did when I began my training as a scientist.  The world of music is so vast, I know so little and am so ill-qualified- will I ever find my way through this?  

I realised today that it didn't matter.  Something inside me is already committed to this,  and it will take its own course.  I just have to sit back and trust myself and life.  As Robert Frost said -

"Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

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