It is often revered by our contemporaries, that when one is presented with a conundrum, we run, we spectate or we commit. I can only admit to having done all three, even though I prefer to spectate at the actual event (once again, get your mind out of the gutter, will you?! I was, indeed, referring to horse events or music events). As I wrote in my last blog, running did play a huge part of my weekly life during my twenties and thirties; weekends too, especially those Saturday and Sunday Triathlons. These days, my running is usually from one venue to the next in order to prepare and teach Yoga. I will, however, admit to running from relationships, unless it is the relationship of my commitment to Yoga. Yoga, as you know, is my devotion, it is ‘home’ for me.
Yoga enables me to think about home a lot, as this is, for me, many things; safety, reality, goodness, and, of course, commitment. There is always the temptation to run, of course, and, believe me, when my sons were very young, and in the throes of their pre-teen hormone stage, I could have smashed my personal (10km) best on those days. The sense of commitment and feeling settled, (now that I am, officially home) never really leaves me. It is because the heart needs to ‘feel’ it, and some would argue that it must be a lonely existence, not having someone to share my home with, but, it is actually more connecting and more satisfying, to experience home with my own feelings, and not someone else’s. Truth is, there is a succinct difference between loneliness and being alone, once we understand ourselves, and how to identify love for ourselves, it is only then, that love begins to expose its true self.
‘Om Tat Sat’ (verse 17.23 Bhagavad Gita (Yoga Bible), literally means, ‘that is truth, that is reality, that is good,’ so, even in YogaLand, we are seeking exactly the same as we are in our Homeland, and, even though I did spend over twenty years in a land, far away, that did become my home, my heart and love is right here, in this little British country of connections.
I do want to share a deeper love though, love that came at a time when loss was bigger, bigger than earthquakes, bigger than being alone, and bigger than Yoga (at that time).
‘Alecasam’, was that deep love, and, ever since I first saw a black Friesian horse, I was, undeniably, awestruck. Myself and my two sons, were taking our Summer vacation in Nelson, New Zealand, house sitting for a friend, who, by the way, was and still is, a runner. A different type of runner though, as she does run competitively, and I don’t recall her going through "Hormone Land" with her four children, so maybe there is something in this running?
Anyhow, back to Friesian horses. We were having a BBQ, and it was fairly cold (cold weather is, actually, a very real Kiwi thing, even in Summer), therefore, we clustered together amongst fellow Citizens, who had abandoned their Home Land too, and shared our stories, past and present. One lady, an equine vet, trotted over, I use that word in collaboration with ‘equines’ because a horse conversation ensued. Her experiences resembled mine, although she had married an Irish guy from Cork, and, therefore, unashamedly, decided to breed purebred Irish Draught horses. All except one, this one was Friesian crossed with Irish Draught, which then led my curiosity and conversation passed Ireland and into Holland.
Post vacation, Holland, well to be exact, Friesland (through Google) found me searching ‘NZ Horses For Sale’ ads. Sunday evenings were always so cosy and restful for the boys and me, they were never lonely or without something interesting to do, but, it is fair to say, this one advertisement caught my attention, so I made contact. What harm could there be in talking to a prospective horse seller about a horse? The boys were worn out from sunny, and sometimes rainy, Nelson and they were happily full of food and tucked up in their rooms, TV was a trite banal, so no better time like the present. It almost could have been that first phone call to a new romance, and in a way, it was….
Alecasam, was grazing in Methven, a small town near the Western edge of Canterbury, about an hour away by car. It rains a lot, it is unspoilt, untouched and feral, as was Alecasam.
In New Zealand, a paddock is a like the size of a small country, but with fewer trees, lots of wire fences and usually full of sheep and cattle. But, on this day, Alecasam was grazing alone, not lonely, just alone. He was called to the gate by his owner, Murphy, who wore a tweed cap and used bale band to keep his trousers up (I knew of a similar farmer from my childhood) and this beautiful animal pulled up with a ‘front- hooved’ stop, his head high, his chest out and all 17 hands of this jet black gentle giant had me winched, hooked and, suffice to say, a little bit in love.
I bought Alecasam (it turned out that this delightful acronym was a moniker derived from Alec and Sam, the two grandsons of Murphy the bale banded farmer). Needless to say, after three months of getting to love this beautiful horse, Sam became his name around home, not just because it was easier to call out, but he was big and strong with thick black hair, and, according to the biblical Book Of Judges, Samson’s hair was his strength, and his father, whose name was ‘Manoah’, reminded me that love appears in many forms, as ‘Noah’ is also the name of my eldest son, so, Sam it was.
Sam and I spent hours together, it was my healing space and a sanctuary from old wounds and heartbreak. I had suffered the sudden and premature death of my beloved father in 2010, right before earthquake number one, and then, the loss of Christchurch City and its iconic buildings, (including my home). So, loss was something that Sam transformed into love. Getting home from work, weaving, to avoid potholes and endless road diversions from endless earthquakes and aftershocks meant that I had the comfort and solace of my black beauty to help restore myself, breathe with ease, and remind me that all was peaceful once again. I didn’t have to remind him to breathe and relax, as it was he who reminded me. He didn’t need to prepare for ‘Corpse pose’ or savasana, as I was the one laying in the grass, whilst he stood watch. I didn’t need to ‘feel’ anything, as he, would, voluntarily, wait, however long was needed, until I was ready to stand up and leave the field.
The Emotional and mental exhaustion we can experience, differs greatly from the physical exhaustion (I can testify from those Triathlon days), and sometimes all it takes is a strong, sturdy and unwavering creature to pillar those fragile days. Sam was, indeed, my pillar of strength, my pillar of faith and undoubtedly my salvation from loss. It took a rookie horse from Methven, a solid, and unspoiled feral creature, to undo the crumbling sadness within me. Taming him, and teaching him to carry me in a school ring was the simplest of sequences, teaching him to balance his weight and stretch was a heaven-sent cinch. He was actually teaching me, teaching me to really listen, especially to the silence. That silence was music to my ears, it became my meditation, my mantra of hope. Sam brought more Yoga into my life than any Vinyasa or Hatha sequence, he taught me silent savasana better than any Corpse pose, and he taught me deep meditation and breath, the essential essence of (Yogic) life force (pranayama), the life force of love.
To write and to live are two very different things, even blogging can emerge from a cascade of ones own perceptions and observations, thus, rendering the words ‘non-fiction’ a definite possibility when putting pen to paper. It is, nonetheless, a soulful and descriptive hobby.
As humans, we are meant to struggle, we are meant to maintain our endless strife for growth; mentally, physically and emotionally. I won’t include the spirit, because without the other three, the spirit can be alive or dead. I always think of those immortal words echoed by the founder of the Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who said, ‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.’
Today, in the busy lanes of working, raising a family and maintaining our lives, we lose our sense of real struggle. When life hands us a clover of difficulty, we look for four leaves instead of three. When the line at the Co Op becomes more than three people, we wait for the ‘call,’ and as sure as the rain comes during a British summertime, one, possibly two checkout fairies appear, to help assist us to a faster exit from Groceryland. I often find myself curious as to why a person needs to jump a queue, or why it is even necessary to not wait in line. I have a moniker for the ‘line-hoppers’, the ‘foot-tappers’ and the ‘tutters’, they are the ‘Artful Dodgers.’
Time has become so irrelevant to these ‘Dodgers’, these Jack (and Jill) Hawkins, (not that being a pick- pocket is on the rise) but dodging the art of living has become an epidemic way of life. For myself, as a Yoga teacher, it is both rewarding and paradoxically, heart-breaking to be standing in front of ‘Jacks’ and ‘Jills’ realising that speed has brought everyone to a standstill, yet standing still is what is meant to move us to struggle. Now that is, enigmatically, going to take some working out, and no asana (posture) based yoga sequence will allow a struggle to manifest in class, because, society wants us to bring softness and ease into Yoga practice.
Confused? Read on.
Cemented within us is our ‘blueprint’ of DNA, the inner map of what our ancestors layered into our tissues, our brain matter and our hearts. Unless this remains untampered with, we have a pretty good handle on what life tosses us, and not just in the form of an earthquake or the return journey to the Motherland, as mentioned in my first blog. So, when I see students losing pints of sweat in a challenging Vinyasa Flow Yoga class, I see struggle, but, I also see the real-life desire to
improve their Flow, their breathing and their strength. Yoga is often described as ‘lifestyle’ or ‘purpose’, but, I kid you not, after 31 years in the leisure life (style) business, it is the desire to move that brings these wonderful souls into the stillness that lifts their spirit. I can attest to having an
overload of gratitude following the Olympic- distance triathlons that I ran in my twenties. It really is the ‘fighting well’ that brings the overwhelming joy, expressed willingly, in those pints of sweat!
There is great satisfaction in achieving, especially when it is preceded by time, patience and careful readiness. Today, however, time is just a fast gallop to an unsatisfying achievement. A little bit like my Christmas Day encounter with my infamous pony, Toby jug, mentioned in my last blog.
We have everything at hand, at foot and at heart, within a fast gallop of time.
My re-entry into the UK culture, was indeed a fast forward launch into the foot tapping and frenetic way of life, yet the irony of teaching Yoga here, is, incredibly, satisfying. Yoga is where the stillness really happens. The transition of Yogis and Brogis moving from restless to restful, actually happens within a sixty minute class. Something moves them and brings peace to their soul, the foot tapping ceases and tutting dissolves into blissful, harmonious friendliness. Yoga really does shift people, it moves the movers to stillness and brings movement to the still. In between both of those reasons, lies the spirit, and only the spirit can inspire the struggle. It is often cited that our spirit lies within all of us and as the Chinese Proverb states: ‘The man who removes a mountain
begins by carrying away small stones’. We want ‘on demand,’ yet picking up that first stone shows a readiness to find our spirit, our soul and our joy. The awkward irony of struggling to connect our lives to our spirit can only be lived, and, as written in the first line of this blog, to write and to live are two very different things, to really connect we have to begin carrying small stones in order to
become an ‘Artful’ pursuer of our soul and our spirit.