So I want to tell ya’ll about being an apprentice at Circle Yoga Shala. Now, I am a city girl, from St. Louis, Missouri, and “ya’ll” is not in my usual vernacular, but it seems contextually appropriate. Besides I like the all-inclusiveness that ya’ll connotes.
The rhythm of the farm
The apprenticeship program flows in the same design plan that everything here at the farm/yoga shala moves: there is a rhythm, and everything sustains everything else. The garden demonstrates this principle of self-sustenance, and it was where I spent much time and energy with Lou Ann, my teacher in all things growing, harvesting, and decaying. For a garden to feed up to 14 people, it has to continually work from within and without. So while one plant may be delicious to eat, it may deplete the soil of certain nutrients, which means another plant has to co-exist there in order to replace those nutrients. (Or nutriments as the Buddhists say). Excrement is an excellent material for composting and feeding a garden, as are food wastes. I became very familiar with liquid and solid wastes, and I can now spot a harlequin beetle or a Colorado Potato Bug from ten paces. With a hearty “om mani padme hum” or an “asalam alaikum” I dispatched many unhelpful garden insects.
Weeding, as any gardener knows, is a necessary task to keep a garden thriving. Weeds are only called thus because they exist in a place that does not serve the rhythm of the garden. Weeding became my meditation, and it also grounded me. In those times and places when my emotions became my identity, weeding brought me back to Myself.
Living in the community
Living in this community I discovered that remembering Oneself is the basis for thriving. It is in direct conflict to what I normally think of as survival behavior. It was an opportunity to drop the self-imposed identity of separateness and inquire into the possibility that there is no “I”. This realization was supported by the Asana practice which is done in an elemental way. I felt how earth, fire, water, air, and space, present in all humans and gardens, are constantly balancing and rebalancing, yet there is Someone Who Witnesses those shifts and changes. Like the garden, it sustains the body in a way that allows Awareness to be cultivated. The community here thrives because the people who created it are committed to non-duality, non-separateness, and living in the Now. Everyone who comes here is welcomed with Love.
Thus everything becomes ceremony, whether it is the ritual of Inipi (Sweat Lodge), or the deep honoring of the body and breath in motion or in stillness during Asana practice, or in the challenging and profound discussions of this possibility that I am not who I think I am. And this is the hardest work I have ever done; even as I hacked at the good earthy clay and rock, removing Bermuda grass that was wound amongst thorny rose bushes and my body got stronger, it was much, much harder work still to pull the weeds of habit, reactivity, and false beliefs and strengthen my heart.
This hard work was reinforced, supported, and informed by Matt’s (sometimes relentless) challenge to continue to question: “Who really is running the show?” (Sometimes I thought it was Miss B, the orphaned duck who struggled with her own identity crisis of duck-ness since she was the sole survivor of a predator’s attack on her six brothers and sisters. Ducks are darn good at getting their needs met). Matt brought me back, again and again, to the possibility of advaita, non-separateness, through the lens of viveka, discernment. And he was adamant that it had to be my own experience, not something intellectually grasped or studied, that would lead me to Truth.
I am eternally grateful to Holly, the embodiment of Grace and the Strong Feminine Divine, whose way with animals and people reminded me that I could relax into not having an answer to everything. Holly taught me how to not act as a predator who needs to dominate, and how patience and gentleness, balanced by determination, can lead to peace.
So ya’ll, there’s Lou Ann, Grandma Gardener Extraordinaire, Matt Chief Cook and Challenger, and Holly, Horsewoman and Mother Divine Devotee, and none of these titles comes close to naming who they really are. We played together, we worked together, and I began to see that there is a We, rather than an I, together in the Garden.
Work, play, and people
And I’ll tell ya’ll: The work is hard, the play is so much fun (like swimming in Steel Creek on a really hot afternoon, or singing to Hall and Oates), and the food is gourmet-quality (organic and mostly grown here). But the crucial journey that I came here for was to have my heart opened up in ways I did not think possible. My heart opening came not just from this place and its co-creators, but also from the many folks in whom I Saw my Self: Rihab and her parents, John Willis, Katie, Jecca, Steph and Joey, Billie, Holly and her sons, Tammy, the two Emily’s, Scott and Star, Holland, Pamela, Yeshe, Read and Natalee, all the good folks of Jasper and Ponca and the Katog Choling Monastery… and all the rest.* I love ya’ll! Shanti!
*If I left anyone out, it’s just my human-ness!
-Written by Lucy Holmes