more yogi incognito stories

more entries from the 1st annual ascent writing contest

illustration by sam weber,

Simple Truths: Complicated Emotions
By Helen Kitti Smith

A man had cupped his hands and scooped an immature bird from the sand. He carried it towards a ledge graced by an ancient tree. He opened his hands and offered it freedom. Bird cacophony indicated disturbance was afoot. Perhaps they were calling out to me. Perhaps not. But I walked towards the stairs that rose behind where he stood. Mature black birds swooped by him in their frenzy, though without harm towards him.

"What happened?" I inquired of him as he watched the birds, unfazed.

"He wants to fly and him not ready yet," he said. "Dem birds will peck at you fierce and burst your skin. Careful, M'Lady. But not me."

"You must be their friend," I added.

I continued up the stairs and walked towards the bench banked against that tree. I looked at him, then at the blackbird. A Carribean grackle it was. The other birds had diminished their fury and settled down. I looked beyond, towards the sea. Then I started to cry.

"Stay to see the sunset," he coached. "She is just about ready to move into she." Then he came up the stairs and sat on my bench rendered warped by too much exposure to the elements. He looked at the ocean for a long time, as did I, before we spoke.

"It's so peaceful here," I said.

"Yes," he replied. "This is my office. Where I come to work everyday." Then he added,

"God's too, you know."

I wiped away my tears.

By Carolyn Wong

When she was just a little kid, maybe three or four years old, she used to travel around with masks, a reflection of the energy she picked up on. I imagine this little red devil running knee high amongst a group of chattering adults. "Would they get it – what you were communicating?" I ask, intrigued.

“Sometimes NOT," she laughs.

The importance of reflection is something Valerie has known since childhood. "I could see how unawareness could perpetuate unhealthy cycles," she tells me. I think about some of the distressing patterns I've broken since coming to a yoga that's rooted in self-reflection. My spiritual teacher writes that taking time for reflection is taking time to be holy. My holy time is where my growth begins.

Recently she's worked on a lot of community projects involving unprofessional writers and actors. She likes the spontaneity and rawness that come out of community theatre. It's the edge she's always sought. Her projects have led to work in inner city settings, community centres and high schools, and with large casts that span generations and ethnicities. Because the bottom line of her creative process is unburying the individual voice, many stories emerge.

Valerie remembers the Halloween masks as the beginning of a journey, one that has led her to direct theatre. For her the theatre is a place to explore concepts and the complexities of being human. It's her means of reflection. Her passion is facilitating the creative process, and she does this with immense dedication and care.

"What is the process?" I once asked her. "The process = unknown," she told me. It's unknown because when she steps into it she doesn't know where it's going to lead. She's not concerned about what the end product will look like, or how it will sound. That's the mystery that each person has a part in solving.

"How did you learn to trust the process?" I ask her. A lot was by trial and error. A lot she learned through her love of painting. As a painter she discovered what she needed for her own self-exploration and for creative expression. She took this and applied it to the theatre and to working with other people. When she did a Masters degree she was forced to think about her method. Over the years her method has become more grounded in experience.

One can see that she loves art, theatre, her process. "Why?" I ask her. "It's that I grow and that other people grow. That's what LIFE is," she says.

Yogi Incognito: C'est Moi
By Laura Krown

A small middle-aged woman with grey hair, glasses, and sensible shoes: the perfect disguise for the yogi incognito. Even when I despoil my cloak of invisibility by adding my rhinestone peace pin, surely nobody would suspect the depth of peace within, or the heroic battles fought and won to achieve it. My songs and paintings do reveal glimpses, but they are seldom heard or seen. Even doing my best to try to explain it, how can I even begin to express, in a thousand words or less, the awesome richness of my inner life?

My real work is teaching hatha yoga. Back in 1970, I was one of the first yoga teachers in Canada. I taught up to twenty classes a week in Alberta for twenty years. I was teaching fifteen classes a week in Vancouver ten years ago, when I became suddenly disabled and had to give it all up. I was bedridden for a year, then another long year slowly and painfully regaining my mobility.

As soon as I was able to work again, I poured everything I had into creating a bookshop. A magical and mystical shop of used and rare metaphysical and spiritual books – the most beautiful and wonderful little bookshop in the world. I loved it! Lots of learning. It took over my life for seven years. Then things changed. I lost the shop. Lost everything. One more time.

What makes me a yogi is not so much what I do, as what I think and feel. Deriving maximum enjoyment from life's simplest little gifts may not usually be considered to be a form of yoga; but it's one of my main practices. My yoga is in how much love and appreciation I'm feeling when I'm cleaning my apartment, preparing a modest meal, riding the bus, or walking with a friend. It's in spontaneously smiling and singing, and in understanding that just being alive is no less awesome than the most mystical transports of my deepest meditations.

It's a mystery to me how some unbidden force awakens me at three o'clock in the morning. Foolishly, I will often resist, and just go back to sleep. Sometimes I will attempt to meditate, and just watch my mind meander and not get anywhere, except to get bored and eventually fall asleep again. Or I may find my mind growing very calm and clear and spacious. If I stay with that, I can feel something wonderful arising; a sense of peace that continues to grow, expanding more and more, a peace so vast and profound it goes beyond peace into infinite purity.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life