The woman behind the eVisa counter at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi scrutinises my passport photograph, brow tightly folded into three deep grooves. I get nervous, castigate myself for not applying for a regular visa back in South Africa. There’s not many people in these queues, hardly queues, so she potentially has all the time in the world to make my life hell. Shit!
Vary casually she reaches for a nearby stamp resting on an ink pad, rummages for a new page in my passport, stamps in my new visa (thank God!), scribbles entry and exit dates onto it, and hands it back to me with a smile. I’m so taken aback that I forget to smile back. But she’s not done with me- as I leave she pinches strands of her hair between her thumb and index finger and tells me: “you change your hair?” nodding and shaking her head simultaneously, in that confusing Indian style. Welcome to India, Makgathi!
I was here in 2015, my Pilgrimage Year, that year that I took off from work in order to save my life. It had been five years since my mother had died, and everything had fallen apart since then. I’d lost so much- both parents, a partner, friends, two homes, my beloved cat, a city, and countless other valuables. But I’d been pushing myself, and nearly broke down in 2014. So I decided to put my shekels together and take myself on a year long pilgrimage.
Second stop was India, for a Yoga Teacher Training stint in Rishikesh. This was IT! And it went very well, except that upon my return, my health joined the long list of lost items, landing me in hospitals at random intervals since June 2015. I never got my health back, and somewhere last year decided that I needed to return to India, ‘to fetch myself’ is how I put it.
So here I was, well ensconced in my yellow and blue room, in this orange ashram located deep within a dust covered, luscious green valley, with black cows and red monkeys owning it all fully. A gentle Mother Ganga tributary whispered wistfully nearby, inviting one to pause, and take a contemplative moment with her. I was about to spend four weeks in a womb, doing the very yang Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training course, which entails, amongst others, three hours a day of asana classes with my very unfit and unprepared body. I was afraid.
My superseding reason for being here was not completely coherent, but I knew that I wanted to work with my inner masculine, and heal and integrate that aspect. To yog, yoke my sacred feminine with my sacred masculine within. So it was fortuitous to be held within this very feminine space of the valley, and to discover that every single person about to work with us was male, including the kitchen and cleaning staff. Turns out that the Masculine wasn’t only to meet me here, but was to journey with me throughout my time in India, including when I went to stay with my friend Nutan in New Delhi. I was surrounded and loved and nurtured by men who cared for my every need, without any conditions, my whole entire time. My very narrow notions of masculinity were being expanded.
By midweek of the first week I was over this yoga thing, and wanted to go home. My entire body ached all the time, making even the simplest actions excruciating. I hated everything. I stopped eating the dhal that showed up at almost every meal, and developed an unexpected sweet tooth. Regular trips to the spaza shop up the road became a welcomed feature of my days, with me stocking up on three-bite sized chocolate bars.
Come week two and my body succumbs to the cold of the winter below the Himalayas and the punishing schedule, and I contract the flu. I know that yoga is about listening to self, and treating that self with compassion; that it’s not necessary to perform absolutely every asana during asana practice, but my view is, how will I get it right if I don’t practice it? My body however disagrees, and that’s how I get sick.
People are worried, and I get taken to the hospital. I retrace my steps back to the very hospital I’d been taken to when I got sick here in 2015. Apparently I’m fetching myself from here too. Medical care is really good in India, and I’m soon back on my feet, back to the pain mat of Ashtanga primary series.
It gets so bad that I one day hear myself groan out in pain to the Vinyasa teacher “Ani, please come pass me my leg”, determined to get into the asana.
Eventually my clumsy misstep dance with this Ashtanga Fire God slowly finds its rhythm. He comes to meet me, and one day I surprise myself by kicking into an unassisted headstand, and float gently up, feeling my head ever so lightly lift off the floor. Fire God consort is not surprised at all. Me and my ego on the other hand are so pleased with myself, that I allow things to get to my head (pun intended). Under ego’s watchful eye, I struggle to hold the pose for even one second. It’s like that. At least I now understand what these yoga teachers mean when they say float. It is a float.
In our Meditation class, our teacher, Swami Narendra gives us a lesson on chakras. Now Swamiji, being a Swami, dresses top to toe in orange, has the most delightful laugh, lovely gestures and such a chewy accent that it’s often hard to decipher what he’s saying. We have to fill in the blanks ourselves, and most of us don’t mind. We love him so much. Plus he calls me Mother. Matha. “Matha, come sit, sit sit” he invites me with a soprano giggle and the ubiquitous head nod-shake, patting my would-be seat.
For this Chakra lesson, we sit in the sun on massive mattresses, sometimes listening, mostly dozing off in irresistible, stolen sleep following our morning Ashtanga class. These twenty something year olds are as challenged as my 52 year old self by these asana classes!
Now remember that the chakra system is an energy system that clarifies that we are made up of not only the physical body, but also of more subtle bodies which are unseen, but which play a crucial role for our growth, healing and finally our waking up to our true nature as aspects of Divinity.
Swamiji tells us that the first two chakras, the root chakra or Mooladha and the sacral chakra or Swadisthana are, respectively, about being grounded and the meeting of physical needs; and sexuality and sexual pleasure (I will blog later in greater detail about all the chakras and their application to my life).
It is when Swamiji speaks about the third chakra, Manipura or solar plexus chakra, that I wake up from my solar slumber. This chakra is located in the upper abdomen, the stomach area (the area that’s had me be rushed to Casualty Units of many hospitals in the past few years). It is masculine in nature, of course being Solar Plexus, the Fire God, and is about issues of self worth and esteem, doubt and wisdom.
Swamiji tells us that it’s easy to get stuck at any of the chakras, but particularly at this Manipura. These first three take a lot of personal effort to move through and transcend, and at this third one that we meet some of our biggest life trials- life asks us whether we mistakingly identify only as our bodies, or do we know that our real identity is Divinity-Aham Brahmasmi?
If you have doubt about your true identify then you will continue to see yourself as your belongings, and focus your life on things that identify you as a separate human being. For example, I could over identify as a woman, or my blackness, my sexuality and many other features that we humans use to help us know who we are, but that invariably also keep us separate from our true selves and each other when we are too attached to those very identities. Life however requires that after differentiating, we need to dissolve self boundaries and return to oneness with ourselves and each other.
For me in particular, being stuck at these lower three chakras shows up thus- I perceive lack in my world, lack of many things but romantic love, specifically, yearn and act to fulfil this lack, feel unworthy of what I yearn for, repel it with my own thoughts of unworthiness, perceive the lack, yearn and act to fulfill it… do you see the pattern? That’s been my life, in a nutshell.
The trial at Manipura is really Grace trying to help me see that I am not my body and all its longings, that in fact, as an aspect of Divinity, I already AM all that I long for. Even “him, the guy”, he is in me, in fact he is me, energetically and in essence. Looking for him out there is useless, and only pushes him out of my awareness, and further cements the veil that hides Truth from me.
It was during Swamiji’s class that I realised how much time I was wasting in waiting with worry. I was living against myself.
My journey through this life is one of Self-Realisation; ‘a pilgrim seeking a joyful path towards enlightenment’, and here I was taking root at Manipura. That’s not okay for me. I want to progress through the heart, all the way to the crown chakra, experience enlightenment, and return after my last lifetime to serve humanity in Samadhi.
And there, in my meditation class, held in the womb of Mother Earth and hatched by the warmth of Father Sun, I cracked open and cried.
That night, in my room, with incense burning and mantra chanting, I journal a Freedom Letter to myself: I release me. I am free. I release me. I am free.
I vowed to move my attention from lack to practising genuine gratitude, and see everything as a Gift from Divinity. If I struggle with the Gift, maybe because it’s not what I seemingly want in that moment, I shall regard the Gift as a learning opportunity, there to help me progress through to enlightenment. I vow to trust that everything is here to serve me, and be grateful for it.
I am very much open to a holy, romantic relationship with my soul companion, but I’m not consumed by the longing. In fact, since returning home, I notice a certain lightness in me. I am clear that my task in this lifetime is to experience Divinity, and to follow Its guidance on how I should live. I’m smiling more. And I feel genuine freedom. Now when I say God is within, I believe it.
Thank you India. You have released me back to me. Did I fetch myself? Well let’s just say that since arriving on the 9th of January, I’ve been landing slowly back into myself. And I’m still landing.
Thank you for journeying with me.