I’m at Charles de Gaulle airport, killing a few hours before my flight to the US. Next stop, Detroit. It is endlessly hilarious to hear the Air France staff say Detroit with French accents. It sounds like a very elegant destination.
So, as I was making my way through Bangalore airport last night, I was wanded by a female security agent (there’s a men’s line and a women’s line for security) and she spotted the tattoo on my inner arm.
“Svadhyaya!” she said.
“You speak Hindi?”
“No. A tiny bit of Sanskrit.”
“Svadhyaya,” she said, nodding. “YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS?” (I use all-caps to capture the way she demanded an answer from me.)
“WHAT IS IT?"
"Self-study. One of the yoga niyamas.”
“You understand it? ALL OF IT?” she asked. (Man, I was feeling grilled!)
“Yes. The study of the self. Introspection. Internal understanding.”
She opened her arms in a wide gesture that included everything and said, “ALL of it.”
She cocked her head and smiled at me. "I am very happy to meet you.”
This brusque manner is something I always notice in India. Sharath has talked about western minds, and I think he’s alluded to our tentativeness. I felt a bit disoriented as I was having a pop quiz from the security agent at the airport about my understanding of svadhyaya (I love even writing that sentence! Where else do you get grilled by a random person about svadhyaya??).
In the shala, Sharath is pretty brusque. And he seems either baffled or annoyed by our tentativeness, depending on his mood. People who get confused and don’t hop to it when he calls, “One more!” can exasperate him. And it only gets worse if they grow more disoriented as he chides them. You have to move forward into the room and trust that you’ll figure out where to go. A tiny little act of faith.
I was thinking about how I never want to be the person he’s looking at when he says, “What you are doing?” (“What are you doing?”) There is zero percent chance that he is asking what you’re doing so he can praise you for whatever it is. If he’s asking, you’re doing something wrong. Here’s the pattern of that conversation:
“What you are doing?”
“No. Do ABC.”
See? Simple. There’s no “Oh, I notice you are doing XYZ, and it’s fantastic – but how about you do ABC?”
In the US, we have this popular “feedback sandwich” concept: if you have to talk to someone about something they’re doing wrong, you first tell them something they’re doing right, then the thing they’re doing wrong, and then something else they do right. To preserve self-esteem. Bleh! I hate the feedback sandwich. Anyhow, on the plane to Paris, I wondered whether this feedback sandwich stuff, this focus on building people’s self esteem, actually makes us more neurotic and tentative.
Something as seemingly simple as crossing the street in India is a challenge for a tentative Westerner. You have to be conscious of everything around you, make a decision about when to proceed, and then move ahead with commitment. No wavering! No waffling! No going back! Any tentative behavior will gum up the flow.
This was my fourth visit to Mysore. I don’t really have a heartfelt wrap up. Just happy to have gone, happy to be heading home, and I’ll be eager to get back next year.
Here’s a dog I met four years ago – when he was a young pup who’d walk a couple of blocks with me each morning as I headed to the shala. He’s older, grayer and more portly these days, but he has a collar and his owner leaves the gate ajar for him so he can always go home.