This is yoga.
“Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Hope flickers on
4:30 pm 7/04/09
The world is full of tears.
Tears that would overflow the banks of any sea.
And yet I still believe in us. In humanity. In the power of love.
It has only been two days since I’ve been back on Swazi soil… The red dust is burning my eyes as I write these words at the ‘veterinary clinic’ which doubles as an internet cafe.
Each morning i spend an hour in clinic, before heading out into the communities to meet the people….
In every hut there is a story of sorrow.
Yesterday we drove up the most inhospitable hill…. Where there was a single hut perched upon rock after jagged rock.
In the hut we found a man with end stage HIV. He was lying naked in his bed, next to a pool of his own wastes.
Every bone in his body, literally every bone was palpable, visible. He had suffered a stroke secondary to complications of HIV/Toxoplasmosis and was unable to move his left side.
One of the wonderful Swazi nurses in the team explained that he had a caring daughter who washed him and fed him each day, but was only able to visit him once a day.
I cant remember a time ive seen someone so hungry.
We gave him an orange. He took it in his skeletal hands and devoured it.
We took out a bag of corn meal and the nurses mixed it with some milk into a paste.
He ate it faster than anything i’ve ever seen.
He held his hands in prayer and through wide brown eyes filled with tears said “Siyabonga” – Thank you.
There is a story of a sparrow, which my Dad told me once.
He was lying on a gravel road, with his little scrawny legs facing the open sky.
A horseman was walking past and seeing the sparrow, alighted from his horse.
He said “Little Sparrow, are you hurt? Why are lying there so awkwardly? Face up to the sky?”
The sparrow said “I have heard, that sometime today the sky will fall.”
The horseman laughed and said “And you think you can keep it from falling with those little legs?”
The sparrow shrugged his shoulders and said “My friend, I will do what I can.”
And that is all I am doing. What we are all doing here in this beautiful, little hamlet so filled with pain.
What we can.
From Siteki with love,
And this is Maithri.
My name is Maithri (pronounced MY3), and I’m a medical doctor living in Melbourne Australia.
I return to Swaziland for several months in April of 2009.
Swaziland is a country with the highest prevalence of HIV in the world (42%). 10% of its population are orphaned children.
It serves as a vivid microcosm of the most emergent and under-recognised humanitarian crisis of our generation: the cycle of poverty and HIV infection.
I have never seen grace, power, and hope so eloquently displayed as I have seen it in the lives of these beautiful people.
I want to share their stories with you.
Walk with me.
Together we will find ways of making a change.
My love to you, Maithri
I do not get to Maithri’s blog, The Soaring Impulse, as often as I should, but every time I do I am overwhelmed. I don’t know if Maithri has ever done an asana in his life, but he is a true yogi in my book. He is a buddha, an awakened one. Each and every one of us could take lessons from this man. He is the epitome of what Krishna speaks of in the Bhagavad Gita, about releasing from the fruits of our actions. If someone told me that I could only teach one class, I can honestly say that the only one I would continue teaching is the one where I am paid nothing — teaching to women in a domestic violence shelter. Karma yoga.
I am certainly not a holier than thou yogini — I still get angry and judgmental and I can still swear like a Marine on occasion (albeit all this is much less now) because I am only human. But when I got back home from my first trip to India and re-entered white bread suburban life, my reverse culture shock was severe. It took me about 6 months to get over it. I was not shocked at the poverty in India or being with slum children, far from it. I handled it very well when beggars with half their faces gone from leprosy would grab my arm for a rupee. But what I did not handle very well was the complacency, indeed the ignorance, of my fellow suburbanites.
I remember standing behind a woman and her daughter in a long line and listening to them whining and complaining about everything they were experiencing in the moment. I imagined twitching my nose like Samantha in Bewitched and dropping them in the middle of Chennai without their cell phones, surrounded by starving street dogs and beggars with no legs grabbing at their designer jeans. I wondered how long mother and daughter would survive without their Vuitton purses and Blackberries. I wanted to scream at them, “WAKE UP!”
And I wonder sometimes at how content and grateful yogis (or people who call themselves yoga practitioners) really are. After all, yoga teachers are supposed to be firmly grounded in the yamas and the niyamas and help their students know the concepts….like santosha, contentment. But it’s been my observation over the years that “yogis” are sometimes not very content at all. Especially on retreats. Especially when taken out of their usual environment.
I’ve been on more than a few retreats with lots of needy yogis. I won’t go into specific details but as a kitchen worker doing my seva, if it was up to me there would be a lot less choices for condiments. You’d be happy with ketchup and mustard and salt and pepper. And no white sugar for you. It’s bad for you anyway so stop sucking it down like there’s no tomorrow. Stop hoarding your food because the cooks really DO make enough for everyone AND YOU ARE NOT STARVING. Has yoga taught you nothing about aparigraha? And you would drink milk one day past its expiration date instead of complaining about it and throwing it out. I am sure the starving man in Maithri’s post would love to have that milk.
Two weeks ago I did a weekend training with one of my regular teachers and she told a story about the difference between Buddhist retreatants and yogis (we were talking about accepting things as they are.) She said she had just led a Buddhist retreat at a well-known yoga center with some well-known western Buddhist teachers and a yoga retreat was starting immediately afterward. They were sitting together in the dining hall after their retreat as the students for the yoga retreat were coming in. One of the Buddhist teachers said, “Ah…here come the yogis. With all their special dietary needs….”
Wheat grass indeed. Yeah, you know who you are. Sometimes it’s hard to look into that mirror that’s held up to your face.
So this is a long-winded way of saying that next time you can’t get your Starbucks mocha frappahooey done just right (OH MY GOD! I SAID TWO SHOTS!!) or you start salivating over the latest Lululemon pants that you have to take out a second mortgage to buy….
think about the dying African who is happy with an orange.
Cut out your Starbucks for a month and make a donation to Maithri’s Swaziland Appeal. I did…because I believe in sparrows holding up the sky.