It has been easy for me to stay on the spiritual path for thirty-four years; but finding an attitude that sustains my joy and compassion is the challenge. A dogmatic seeker is dangerous. I could easily become rigid, controlling, or just an annoying know-it-all. It’s been a constant adjustment of my approach to make sure that the path uncovers my liberation instead of illusory freedom. I’m finally figuring some things out, and Mother Nature performed this cosmic drama one rainy autumn morning amidst the sunflowers.
That day, I had stepped quietly onto the deck. As I sipped my coffee I watched a sunflower sway as a goldfinch pecked at its seeds. She pirouetted and clung upside down. An ostinato of descending chirps began. I tried to locate the source of this insistent cry, and spotted a goldfinch fledgling, just a buff-colored puff of feathers sitting under the sunflower. He fluttered his wings and chirped more loudly. His mom ignored his cries for food and continued her pas de deux with the sunflower.
I took another sip of coffee and thought, I can relate to that little guy. My eagerness for Yoga had gotten me started, but my attachment to the practice—and constantly needing reassurance from my teachers—had blocked my growth.
The fledgling—I nicknamed him Pete—stopped chirping. He dolefully pecked at a fallen seed but a raindrop plopped on his head. He blearily looked to his mom as she swung carefree above. Pete settled back on his toothpick legs and resumed his petulant chirp and flutter.
Unlike Pete’s apathy, back in my early Yoga days I had done my practice with intense enthusiasm. I did long meditations each morning, a full hour and a half of Hatha Yoga where I picked the most challenging poses. I was rigid about my practice schedule, which kept me on track but also made me judgmental about myself. Most regretfully I also judged others. I treated my practice like it was the spiritual Olympics; it may have been born of spiritual hunger but it was sustained with an unhelpful desire to prove my worth.
The mug was warm in my hands and I finished my coffee. It tasted of dark cherries and rich earth. The mama goldfinch zipped down from her sunflower and fed Pete a few seeds. Buoyed by her ministration, he hopped and flapped his wings. In a bit of brief flight that was more like falling upwards, Pete landed on a low branch of the sunflower. His mom flew up to her topmost perch and he watched her feed, his head tilted to the side in curiosity. He began to peck at a nearby seed head and after a few failed attempts finally nabbed a seed. Now he began to feed with enthusiasm, even if he did peck at his own toes more often than the seeds.
Maybe Yoga practice is like that too; just keeping at it often leads us to discover how it will work for us. About five years into my super-rigid ways I had begun to relax a bit. My keen-edged disciplined was being tempered by the compassion inherent in practicing daily over a long period of time. Practicing during flu season or injury, when traveling, or just keeping it up during the daily litany of to-do lists and deadlines had shown me that daily struggles come and go. But underneath it was the same insecure kid who just wanted a bit of attention. My practice was like giving my most vulnerable self a bit of attention, an embrace that held my insecurity with compassion and love.
The sky darkened. A chill breeze ran down the hill and maple leaves chased the wind with clattering waves. The rain turned from a few intermittent drops and began to fall. I grabbed my mug and dashed into the kitchen as the goldfinches scattered to cover in the lilacs. The rain beat down and the tops of the sunflowers bowed in silent acquiescence like hooded monks at morning vespers.
I stood just inside the door and tried to find Pete among the dripping branches. He was tucked near his mom and preened himself easily. I felt like I had just witnessed a rite of passage; the little fledgling’s first moment of independence.
But Pete had needed his mom in order to nurture his self-discovery; that spiritual paradox that we need other people in order to be alone. Sustaining my practice for the long-haul is a lot like being both Pete, and more especially his mom. Because, for me to sustain Yoga for the long-haul I seem to need a bit of mothering. Not the gendered mothering of societal expectation and rules of correctness, but a divine mothering of my soul’s compassion for my human struggles; an infinite compassion to melt my hard edges just as morning rain softens the earth.
The rivulets of rain pooled under the sunflowers and ran down the path. I was grateful for the garden and its glimmer of golden-winged hope on a rainy autumn morning.
A few days later I walked through the garden and a spray of goldfinches scattered away from a patch of Rudbeckia. As they glittered towards the treetops I hoped Pete was among them; confident and sure in flight. I prayed that he would learn to embody the compassion that his mother taught; and that he would always be free to feel perfect, accepted, and loved.
About the Author:
Gita Brown is a wellness activist, musician, and writer. She is a certified Advanced Integral Yoga® teacher and licensed Yoga for the Special Child® practitioner. Through her “Yoga with Gita courses” and podcast, “The Gita Brown Show,” her mission is to teach her students how to adapt the traditional practices of Yoga to bring more ease, wellness, and joy into everyday life. Gita started Yoga as a teenager, when her love of Yoga grew in tandem with her career as a classical clarinetist and music therapist. For three decades, she has taught Yoga, wellness, and music courses at colleges, schools of music, community schools, private studios, public schools, and hospitals. She is currently finishing final revisions to her memoir. The story is about how she repurposed her wedding vows into a yogic vow to live love as a way of life—a pilgrimage that endured even as her husband and childhood sweetheart battled end-stage alcoholism. She offers Yoga to students of all ages and abilities through online programs and in person at her home studio at Three Dog Farm in Kingston, Massachusetts. Learn more about her services by visiting: https://www.gitabrown.com