I wonder if most everyone doesn’t wish, some times, to be a Jedi. A sensitive, and an initiate. A devotee of something beyond tribe and time and name. Someone with so much heart: which comes out as courage, compassion, reverence, capacity to merge.
Did you know there are whole worlds of people just practicing for the sake of practice? They don’t want or need to talk much about it. They just do; and they just are.
Five a.m. and I see a room already simmering with souls sensitive to the Force. Nobody told them at first about brahma muhurta or the Yoga Sutras. They were just born wide-eyed. Or they stepped into a practice room, and some latent ninja sensitivity crackled to life.
I see these people get it, with a strange readiness. The usual dullness, instability, illness, doubt, cravings, irregular breath, sadness, internet gossip, unkind self-talk, or vainglory of perfect poses (YS 1.30-32) did not slow them down.
I forget what it is that they get, but possibly it has to do with the cosmic joke. (The joke seems to be that, despite earth being a general hell, we can potentially wire the nervous system for good, truth and beauty. We can set ourselves up for a brief lifetime of passionate creativity and love.)
This understanding is a look in the young padawans’ eyes. It shows up as a regard for posture as nothing but by-product of their devotion. These people do any repeated action as reverie. They close the toilet seat with the same feeling they use touch the shala threshhold. Creative, worshipful gestures.
Community and relationship are sacred to them too. There is so much respect for everything, though they usually keep it to themselves.
So these people, with their easy reverence, make everything they touch sacred. With two or more of them gathered in a room, moving, in silence: the walls vibrate. Their least-preferred practice spot becomes, through insta-radical acceptance, the sweetest. Their presence can bless the people around them, one way or another. I know a padawan who even says “shit” poetically. And a whole handful who cried the first time they crossed the shala threshold. They laugh a little if there’s a glimmer of self-pity, or there’s some day they’re just so pissed off on the mat that they get to face pure suffering.
I can’t teach anyone this stuff, in part because I keep forgetting the root secret it is expressing.
Even when I do remember, it’s not teachable. Rather, what happens is on lucky occasions the latent padawan mind just surfaces in a new practitioner. Their words, and their thoughts, and their actions, and their body, and their feelings, and their intuitions, LINE UP. Pancha kosha overdrive. You put your quarter in the slot machine and pull the handle this one time, with some sort of luck, what comes up is diamonds in every column.
So you, dear padawan, you get sensitive to the energy of deep alignment. And by the way what often comes with it is nonviolence. Truthfulness. A not taking that which isn’t offered. A dropping of the need for sexual attention or drama, and of our general human desperation. It also expresses as healthy boundaries. Contentment. Discipline. Self-awareness. Radical acceptance. (YS 2.30-2.) Jackpot.
These are my senior colleagues. When I think about them, I hear the minor-note mystery songs Sting wrote in the 90s, probably because he was hanging out and practicing Ashtanga with these very people as his muses.
They have one foot planted outside society on the mountain top, and one in the field of battle. They are deep alphas, strong personalities with nothing to prove and skill coming out of their ears. Padawans plus 20 and more years of strong practice. And no apologies for being eccentric.
They possess the high-level saninty-creation skills the padawan works for: pattern recognition, cutting through illusion, forgiveness.
All of them can heal themselves – they have long since signed over their bodies to the science experiment of yoga. Their minds and homes are storehouses of the esoteric; and they all have some weird Hogwarts specialties and personality quirks to match. All of them have gone to the desert, been tempted by the devil for a fortnight, over and over again, and taken energy from the hellfire of their own dark sides. None of them give away their power: their constant abject surrender is just a strategy for staying in the flow.
The shamans are half invisible. They’ll show themselves when it suits their purposes, or you will catch them in your peripheral vision riding motorbikes, flashing inexplicable jewelry or tattoos, engaging in economies you can’t begin to understand. It’s a man with a kitchen full of strange tasting science experiments that make you feel amazing, who expresses extremely refined preferences in music you’ve never heard of, who spends moon days wildcrafting herbs and berries for elixirs the rest of us don’t know yet how to use. It’s a woman in a coastal town who since before anyone cared about Ashtanga has run one of the best and deepest Mysore programs in the world, with 12 students; and you’ve never heard of her. Because she doesn’t want the energy of distracted minds. Her vocation is attenuation of the vritti, not stirring minds up to grab the cash and mouse-clicks that vritti puts in circulation.
Brahma muhurta has been the shaman’s prime time for decades. This keeps her half in society, and half in the prophet-exile realm. Inside outside inside; here gone here. Present; absent; present absence. They slip into and out of teaching and leadership roles.
Their onging mode of interacting with the rest of us is to see (and reveal) the strange in the familiar, and the familiar in the strange.
I can only say what I’ve heard, and suggest that maybe there are two or three alive, somewhere, in this practice now.
Shinzen says the bodhisattvas, when he finds them, are always the same. The first one he met was Nicola Geiger, in Japan. Later he met an anonymous south Taiwanese zen master, after that the last of a line of Navajo leaders, and so on. These are beings who figured out, as he says, that the practice starts with learning to keep your spine straight, and ends with knowing that you live to serve others. This does sound like someone we all knew once, or know of.
Here’s how he says you identify what the Tibetans call a sempa chembo, a great hero of consciousness. They are always hidden in plain sight, both invisible/passive and so easy to approach. They always treat everyone as equals. They have enormous energy, inhuman amounts of it, and lack a need for “personal” time. Purely self-referential thinking and activity have ceased.
I imagine they are no longer processing old experiences or collecting new ones, and are now fully occupied by a stream of creative being with other humans. They’re not working on skills; they are embodying them. They are not, like the rest of us, trying to understand what it means to serve, and how that really works as a form of life. Service is just the spontaneous and natural by-product of their interacting with the world.
Or so I suspect.