Stealth Shala • 5 May 2009

It works like this. Mail the director 10 days in advance, asking for permission to drop in and directions to the shala. When he does not respond for four days, ask a student of his—who is also a friend of yours—to put in a word for you. Day five: send another email. Day six, find out a client of yours has been friends with the elusive director since elementary school and has just written to him to share the news that you are her teacher. Day seven: get a cell number and call him. When he answers and immediately hangs up on you, call back. When he answers again, cut in and keep him on the line, have a great conversation. Day nine: receive a .pdf map of the street corner where the unmarked building is located, and where to find the unlocked back door, where you should enter not before 5:00 but not after 6:00. A “before-hours joint.”

Day of: drive a concatenation of dark, empty freeways and city streets, right past the destination. Circle back, spot a full lot in this lower-middle-class commercial zone and pull in. Notice this place used to be an auto repair place or small factory. Notice the non- motor-city parking stock of Hummers, BMWs, a Volvo, plus several beater sedans and pickps; take the very last spot with your rented silver mazda (note: for a reconnaissance mission, do not rent a vehicle with a turning radius the width of three lanes of traffic).

Go to the back, find the metal door with the numerical lock and the small red Ganesh that one might mistaken for a painted rose. Appreciate the crisp hat-and-scarf kind of morning (even though it's already May). Inside, feel the warms. See sneakers and Ugg variations orderly along the walls, billowing silk alongside changing rooms, two graceful women taking your hand between strong, very soft palms to ensure everything’s in order with you and you know you’re at home.

In the dark, hear that a wood stove roars at the end of the short hall leading down to two barely-lit rooms—one for practice and one equally large for finishing—which will brighten as the sun comes in the old skylights. Next to the stove, glance an old porcelain clawfoot tub full of dry, yellow corn kernels, with a foot-long rough wooden scoop lying in the bottom. Art? Something referring to grist for the mill?

And then practice. Appreciate the darkness, good breath, silence, the tall teacher who laughs at my backbends and has nothing to prove to either the two brand-new students, me, or the many everyday people. Afterwards make some laidback talk on random topics—jewelry-making, convection systems, Colorado—sitting on the church pews by the stove. Find out the tub of corn is just a good clean heatsource. And take this little kernel he tosses at your feet: “There are some conscious pockets around here. They're hiding. But something is going on.”


Stealth Shala