Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll. Kind of.

Okay, not quite. But ‘rape, wine and guitar lessons’ doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as glibly.

Anyone who takes their interest in yoga beyond the mat and into the texts written on the subject will come across Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra which refers to the ‘eightfold path’, also known as ‘ashtanga‘ which literally means ‘eight limbs’ (ashta = eight, anga = limb in Sanskrit). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life: ‘they serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health and help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature’ (I quote shamelessly from Yoga Journal’s http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158).

The limbs make sense to me in a way that a lot of other ‘moral truths’ or ‘rules’ don’t. Not every limb or even every part of every limb resonates entirely with me but as a whole I find them a very helpful guide to living a ‘good’ life.  They work for me on many levels.  The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Stick with me if your eyes are starting to glaze over – I’m getting to the point).

Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice. Incidentally, I don’t say grace but I do give thanks to all sentient beings who were involved in preparing the food that I am about to consume. It blows my mind every time I do it. 

Breaking it down further: the five yamas are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (non-covetousness) and the five niyamas are saucha (cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (heat/spiritual austerities), svadhyaya (study of the sacred scriptures and of the self) and isvara pranidhana (surrender to God or a higher being as you know it).

Now svadyaya is where the rape, wine and guitar lessons fit in. Svadhyaya or self-inquiry ‘encompasses all learning, reflection and experience which is said to result in a greater understanding of our own fundamental nature. Self-study is perhaps the most crucial of the niyamas because at some point we must all reconcile to the fact that although higher consciousness is within everyone’s grasp, no guru, priest or other person can do the work for us’. Or, in  my case, no psychologist, marriage therapist, trauma counsellor, friend, parent, sibling or social worker.

I’ve never kept it a secret that I was raped when I was 14. Ten days after my 14th birthday, to be precise, in my own bed, in  my own house with my parents and sister sleeping soundly in their own rooms. It goes without saying that it was a terrifying and traumatic event in my life and affected each and every one of us in all sorts of ways. We all went through our own processes of dealing with it and the fall-0ut that ensued, and as I found myself heading towards my mid-thirties, I remember feeling quite good about how well I’d handled it and assimilated the experience into the rich tapestry of my life. Ha! How I smile fondly at my younger self when I think back on that now. As it turns out, it took me having my own two children and deepening my 20-odd years of precious yoga practice before I really started seeing things the way they actually were, and that what I thought was me finally coming out of the wilderness was actually me just starting to enter a dark and very convoluted path through a very dense forest with lots of scary beasts lurking around every ominous corner.

They say that the teacher appears when the student is ready. I give thanks on a daily basis – (literally, every night when I write in my gratitude journal) – that a kick-butt band of phenomenal teachers appeared at the very moment that my walls truly started crumbling and my eyes started opening to what a catastrophe my emotional life had actually become.

The last number of years have been a massive, massive growth curve for me. With the help of these incredible people and the svadhyaya that I speak of above, I came to see how what had been a coping mechanism for years (drinking wine to make the bad times bearable and the good times better) had gone completely haywire and was starting to badly affect not just me but some of the people closest to me. I came to admit for the first time how utterly horrific, sad, heartbreakingly awful the rape was. How it had affected our whole family. How a mask that I had learnt to put on as a confused and hormonal teenager became a permanent feature that eventually I didn’t even realise that I could take it off if I wanted to. I had no idea how to.

The Yoga Sutra says that as we progress on our path of self-study ‘we develop a connection to the universal Divine laws and the spiritual masters who revealed them. It is not only meant for those dedicated to matters of the spirit however but has great practical meaning for anyone who recognize there is room for improvement in our lives’ – and frankly, who doesn’t! ‘Svadhyaya represents an ongoing process through which we can assess where we are at a given moment. It is like attuning our inner navigator and finding meaningful answers to questions: Where am I now, and where am I going? What is my direction, and what are my aspirations? What are my responsibilities? What are my priorities?’

We often find ourselves on cruise control, acting habitually and being so swept up in the momentum of our daily lives that we don’t take the time to check where we are or where we are headed. It’s  not been painless to stop and take stock of all that I was doing that was entirely automatic and unintentional and downright destructive at times, but it’s been worth it and it can surely only continue to be worth any discomfort or work. I’m told that that uncomfortable space is exactly where transformation happens. The mantras and textual studies offered by the classical tradition function as references from which we can measure where we are. To take the forest analogy a bit further (bear with me, I know it’s tenuous): I am not out of it yet but it’s no longer a tunnel at the end of the light that I see, rather the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s hard to look away from that gorgeous light because it’s finally straight ahead rather than winking at me from around yet another corner. I feel like I’m walking into the light. It’s warm, it’s safe, it’s beautiful and it’s so welcome in my life.

Oh, the guitar lessons (aka rock ‘n roll): in the process of embracing the bruised 14 year old who is and always will be very much a part of me, I’ve dusted off my old guitar and started to take lessons again – after almost 30 years, at the ripe old age of 40. My teacher is an uber-cool musical whizz-kid who is young enough to be my child, but we seem to get on well and share a love for all things jazz and blues so it’s surely a matter of time before I’m carving out a career as a rock chick.

On second thoughts, I’ll stick to teaching yoga.

For more about the eightfold path and to see where a lot of this post stems from, visit http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158.

The Death / Celebration of a Precious Child: Chanting ‘Om’ for Baby Sam I Am

Chanting ‘Om’ for Baby Sam I Am

Last Friday I had the incredible privilege of being a part of a memorial service for an 18 month super-hero who left this world too soon. He was the son of a school friend, and although I was never fortunate enough to meet little Sam, by all accounts he was an absolute legend. Judging from the turn out at the memorial service and the way in which people reacted on the day, this little dude really was something very special indeed.

As a mother of a 4 year old and a 2 year old, this whole tragedy was painfully close to my heart, and I confess that I spend the entire weekend that I heard about the accident in floods of tears, and spent more time at my meditation bench, with a candle lit for my friend and her husband and two remaining sons, than I recall doing in recent times. I cried when I woke up, I cried when I went to sleep, and the only thing I could do to start to make sense of this senseless situation was to meditate and to try to send love, light and acceptance to the bereaved family.

I wasn’t the only one  – as the news spread, friends kept contacting me, asking if it was true and whether I knew any further details. We all were grieving, not just for the family and the deadening loss of this vibrant child, but for every single parent that ever has to experience this despicable turn of the natural order – no sweet quotes can ever make up for a parent having to bury their child.

The memorial service was simultaneously the most moving, emotional, harrowing and uplifting experience I have had in my life. As I arrived, the late afternoon sunshine was twinkling diagonally across the field in front of the graceful old Cape Dutch house, the oak trees were dancing in the wind, and there was the sound of a piper on the breeze – anyone who has heard this before will know what a haunting and emotive sound this is. Upon seeing the beautiful shrine set up in front of the natural marquis, with framed pictures of the precious little Sam, the white candles, wind chimes and bouquets decorating the oak trees around the tent, it was immediately apparent that this was going to be something to be remembered. The parents had asked for people to bring a plant to remember Sam in a memorial garden, and the beautifully delineated garden was literally bursting at the seams with all the offerings. I love to think how that garden is going to thrive as the years go by.

The service started with the most beautiful song, ‘Precious Child’ by Karen Taylor Good, and it was at this point that I gave up trying to stem the flow of tears, and instead allowed them to stream down my face as everyone ached along with the incredibly brave parents.  We were all united through our floods of tears and an astronomical amount of respect for the family for how bravely they are handling this tragedy and what incredible support they are managing to provide to each other, even through their own personal pain.

The eulogy read by the mother – the beautiful, brave mother- brought everyone to their knees:

Our baby boy, our source of joy

Our brother and our friend.

We loved you then, we love you now

And this is not the end.

Your freckled nose, your cheeky grin

Your big blue eyes shone from within

Your joyous shouts of “gotta go!”

This world for you was just too slow

The way you lived, the way you loved

Was so intense and pure

And we hope that you felt treasured here,

Because, by God, you truly were

An old soul is what we called you

And that is what you are

We feel your love around us now

To help us heal these scars

You may not be here on this earth

But in our hearts you are alive

We are today, we’ll ALWAYS be

A family of five.

Love you always, Mommy, Daddy, Jack and Alex

We cried, we wept, we admired everyone who made a beautiful speech, and we applauded the farm labourers who showed their love for the baby himself, as well as a deep love and sense of respect for the parents. When hundreds of balloons – white (to symbolise all the spaces that will be left behind by this beautiful baby) and blue (to symbolise all the tears we will all shed that will be sent up to heaven rather than falling to the ground) – were released, we all watched them rise high into the sky and then drift off with the wind over the Overberg and into the great unknown. This was possibly the most heartrendingly beautiful part of the whole ceremony.

I have nothing to offer to the mother and father of this precious child, gone too soon. I am not religious, but my sense of spirituality deepens with each passing year, and especially with each passing person. So many people have written such beautiful things, and I can’t compete. So, simply, a few words:

When my precious granny passed away on 2 August 2012, I feel that I was fast-forwarded into the realm of pondering what’s beyond the here and now. My granny, Patricia Brink Langley, was not only the most stylish babe one could ever meet but the most wise, humorous and calm person you can imagine. She practiced yoga from her early days in then-Rhodesia, and she is most definitely the reason that I fell in love with the practice myself. For months since she died, I have felt that every time I ended a class and led the class in chanting ‘Om’, it was all about Patrish – that’s who I hold in my mind’s eye, and I as I bow my head down as the class ends, I see her face and can almost hear her saying in her gentle voice ‘Hello darling’. But now, every single time I prepare to get up off my yoga mat, she shares that precious moment with Sam, who is also front of mind when I turn my attention to the beautiful universe and trust that all is happening as it should.

I can’t imagine how you would ever make sense of the loss of this little/huge person. I see Sam everywhere. I keep you in my mind all the time, J and P, and that’s all I can do. See below for why Sam is ever-present in my yoga classes xxx

Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and/or end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe.

Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell.

Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.Image/