Myself as a question mark

Hubby came and sat with me the other day at the end of my āsana practice. I was playing some music he liked, so we just listened, breathed, did whatever we each did for those short moments together. He’s a bit cautious with physical practice at the moment which is entirely good and fine but I’m trying to encourage him gently towards some small moments like this where he can get out of his head-thoughts. I don’t dare call it meditation since for him that’s too woo-woo and spiritual. Consider it an anti-stress measure, and he’s much more receptive.

gurudev.jpgAt the end he asked me to play the music again and he listened attentively to the words, part English, part Sanskrit. He asked me what the Sanskrit said, so I repeated it as best I could (it was a really simple repetitive phrase, I’m not talking Mahabhārata recitation!). But no, he wanted a translation. “What does gurudev mean?” he asked me. Ooohhhhh! Tricky! I mean, why would I know!? But he had asked so I did my best to offer an answer (you can tell I’m trying my teaching hat on for size! 😉 ). I explained what each part of the word meant (guru + deva) in very simple terms, with a quick nod towards IE etymologies since he knows Latin and Greek and I thought he’d be interested in that aspect of the words (whether deva is cognate with deus or θεός — controversial, I know!). And I offered a very vague explanation of what I think gurudev might mean within Hindu thought.

This is way beyond my understanding and what I do know is ‘second hand’, by which I mean I’ve not studied the primary texts, I’m not Hindu, and I don’t claim personal experience of ‘gurudev’. But none of this mattered because that’s not really what he was asking. I don’t think he really wanted to know on that level. Too woo-woo, too spiritual — of course! He was, I reckoned, simply idly curious about the song. So I realise when you’re asked a question you have to consider: do you offer a full answer, I mean do you give the the answer you’d have been interested in hearing yourself, or do you just give the answer you think the enquirer wants to hear?

I thought of this before class yesterday in the context of what a teacher offers students and how they must balance whether to teach what the class might want or what they might themselves want to teach. We were joking around as we considered the idea of the relevance of yoga in the world, given that the world can be a troubling place on a truly international scale at the moment. My teacher clearly wanted to set up yoga as helpful and relevant in this context. I provocatively suggested that I wasn’t sure if everyone actually wanted relevance. Perhaps sometimes people turn to yoga to escape the world, not, in fact, to engage more fully with it. Just as Hubby didn’t want a philosophy lesson, he just wanted to hum along to a nice tune and relax a bit.

question mark headI used to get impatient with this, expecting everyone to want depth, depth, and more depth all the time. But that’s too much. Superficial has its place too — it’s a time for absorbing and coasting a little. I frequently give myself the cognitive ‘bends’ as I dive too deeply, too quickly and have to surface again in a hurry as I confuse myself and over-complicate asking so, so many questions. I sometimes think that if you could see the contents of my brain it would simply be a massive bunch of questions marks all jumping up and down vying for attention.

Anyone around me will laugh at this, but honestly I’m trying to lighten up on the questions a bit, trusting that the answers will come eventually. Sometimes they need a little helpful input (practice, books, interweb, teacher…), sometimes they just need to rest quietly in my head. And I’m even confronting the idea that some of them will never have answers, or will have a different answer each time I ask. It’s almost a relief!

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