One divorce and two post divorce breakups under my belt, and I am ready to admit that I haven’t got this relationship thing figured out. The definition of insanity, after all, is doing the same thing over expecting a different result.
I recognize that my yoga practice has been the only thing for the past year that has kept me sane. Realizing this, I wondered if yoga might also help in my dark relationship corner and signed up for a lecture at Kundalini Yoga Park Slope titled The Art of Love.
Keep in mind that at this point - I know very little about Kundalini yoga. So I had a nice dinner and headed out into the night; imagining how the awakening of my spinal energy might finally bring me everlasting love.
Kundalini Yoga Park Slope is located in a brownstone on a gorgeous block near Prospect Park. Everything inside is white, and it is maybe the most serene place I have ever been. The lecture was led by Hari Nam Singh Khalsa, a 30 plus year kundalini yoga teacher and couples counselor based in Portland. Extremely chatty and open, I discover he too has been through divorce. He is also a lawyer. As it is my first Kundalini experience, Hari Nam kindly offers to teach a bit of yoga before the discussion. Note to self – don’t eat dinner 15 minutes before kundalini. We started with breath of fire, and moved through about 30 minutes of abdominal exercises and squats – awakening my happily digesting dinner energy. The fantasy that kundalini yoga was sitting in lotus pose feeling the energy move up my spine? Shattered.
Hari Nam travels the world giving these lectures because he believes strongly in congruency; he sees a deep disconnect between peoples’ spiritual lives and personal lives, pointing out that we are working on merging with the infinite but not with the person we are sleeping next to. Yoga is practiced for personal and spiritual development, and in Hari Nam’s eyes our intimate relationships are the best watermark for this progress - “a person’s spiritual evolution is related to their ability to function in a healthy relationship with another human”. It turns out that in the kundalini yoga tradition, the highest spiritual path is one of a householder; a regular person with a family and a job living with a certain level of consciousness. That impressed me. I do think in many ways it would be easier to be a nun than in a relationship; at least some of mine.
“The problem today, is that everyone is lonely” Hari Nam begins after the exercises. In a desperate attempt to soothe ourselves we turn to alcohol, food, stuff and relationships to fill our deep loneliness. The truth of it is, he says, is that life is a lonely journey. We are an intimate group, three women and the co-director of the center Sat Jagat Singh. It is funny that we are all attracted to the workshop as one of us is divorced, one single, and one married. We are all searching despite our relationship status. The reason for this becomes clear as Hari Nam explains the only relationships we can really ever count on are the one we have with the divine, and the one we have with ourselves. And now I realize that I am in a bit of a pickle, because myself and I are barely acquainted, at best. I wonder if the other women agree.
Hari explains the real key here, is to know yourself. If one really knows and accepts who they are, the desperate need for something or someone to complete us fades. Yoga helps us to become more intimate with ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually; which is paramount if we are to ever become truly intimate with another. I always did think that part of Jerry McGuire was a bit over the top. Why can’t we see the rest of the movie, where he sick of being completed? I know from personal experience that after time the nagging desire for me to complete myself, once again, rears its ugly head. This is usually the point where I start trying to change my partner. I mean really, if he could just spend some more quality time with me, stop being so angry and leave the toilet seat down, everything would be fine. Right?
Sat Jagat Singh warns, “don’t think you can change anyone else. You can only change yourself to accept your partner exactly as they are”. Woops. He also offers that it is through satsang and discipline that we begin to know ourselves. It is the commitment to this practice of yoga, of knowing ourselves, that changes all of our relationships. It is rather poetic to me that a yoga practice and a relationship both require the C word. This type of discipline takes patience and perseverance I think, two qualities that are antithetical to our culture. It is no wonder we are becoming more and more lonely, and more and more desperate to fill up with the fleeting shiny promises of whiter teeth, an iPhone or a new boyfriend. I have even gotten a bit sneaker about it, thinking I really need a new yoga mat. Hiding my emptiness by wrapping it up in a “something for my spiritual development” package.
Hari Nam talks a lot about marriage, and I pay attention. He says marriage is the highest form of yoga and that there are really only two good reasons to get married. The first being coziness; it can be cruel and cold out there, and there is nothing wrong with finding a partner to create a beautiful safe home with. The second reason is to help one another on our spiritual paths. This union is not as easy because this partner will challenge as well as support us. A really spectacular marriage however, is one where there is a spiritual component; two individuals come together in a union, which has a bigger purpose. He says that if we’re not in a relationship for either of these reasons, then we are just there to get our emotional needs met because we aren’t whole ourselves. Gulp. Shel Silverstein images of me rolling around looking for my missing piece flash before me. Smashing all sorts of shapes into the nice pie-sized opening.
I believe on some level though, every relationship is walking a spiritual path – whether we are conscious of it or not. Each experience makes us either more aware or more miserable which then can lead us to desiring the awareness. Choosing to be in a relationship consciously is really taking it to the next level, and I realize that is what I’ve been looking for. True love is fearless, courageous and therefore not easy Hari says, because it requires us to be so vulnerable. “Divorce didn’t kill me.We can survive it, the sky is still blue.” When we are this fearless incredible strength is discovered, knowing that we can never really be hurt. My does this sounds nice after the past year in fetal position.
We end the evening with some delicious chai and the idea that you need to “be that which you want to find in a relationship”. Considering that I don’t want to date anyone that is jaded, suspicious, and makes me jump through hoops to prove I won’t hurt them and can thoroughly clean the bathroom, it’s safe to say that I have some work to do here.
I am extremely grateful to Hari Nam, and the co-directors Guru Surya and Sat Jagat Singh. I left this workshop with a lot more insight and maybe even a little hope that I too might someday have a real partnership not based on mutual emotional-need fulfilling. And this safe, warm temple is a great place to, sigh, get to know myself better.