My Decade of Beauty – Building the Palace Within.


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Douglas with the Dikshitar Priests during the Homa, Chidambaram, Dec 2010 – photo Frank Andolino

How deeply do you wish to participate in your life?

To my teacher Douglas Brooks

Ten years ago today I sat in a room with 26 other people and listened as you said to us: You are sufficient unto yourself. Everything you truly need is present. The question is: How deeply do you wish to participate in your life?

This was day one of my Yoga Teacher Training, and I could say that I didn’t know then how much my life would change, which might make for a better story or at least build more drama for a later moment of epiphany, but the reality is that I did realize in this moment that my life had just shifted. I had no idea of what was to come, but I knew that I had stepped into something seismically upending.

What I did not know was that throughout the next decade I would begin to shift my identity away from the Susanna whose life revolved around the art world, organizing my weekly schedule around openings in Chelsea and my annual schedule around my residencies and exhibitions. I did not imagine that I would walk away from a highly coveted position at MoMA in order to teach yoga classes in the East Village and Soho, then in Paris and in Rome. At that point I could not have pictured myself meditating in a temple in South India and wanting to be nowhere other than exactly where I was. This paradigm-shifting moment ten years ago was not something that I had consciously sought out, yet clearly, beneath the surface, I had cultivated an internal space for it to take root and blossom. And I recognized it when it happened – that’s the thing.

Dancing on the steps of Palani Temple, Dec 2010

At this time last year I was returning from pilgrimage in Tamil Nadu with you. In an article I wrote upon my return, I proposed this: Make a pilgrimage within yourself. Treat this year like a journey. Visit every place you can find that resides within you. And then honor your experience, regardless of what you find along the way.

Dikshitar Priests at our Rudra Homa, Chidambaram, Dec 2010 – photo Frank Andolino

I had just moved through the humid and darkly ecstatic interiors of Tiruchendur. I had climbed past waves of camphor smoke, pressing the folds of my sari against my leg to mount the hundreds of steps to the top of Palani. I had woken up day after day before dawn in anticipation of the cacophonous temple music that preceded each sunrise, then stained the soles of my feet red with the spilled kumkum at Tillai Kali Amman Temple. I had craned my neck toward the Cit Saba in Chidambaram, my body sweat-soaked and immobilized by so many other bodies, all of us yearning for a glimpse of the dancer’s face gleaming behind the flames of the arathi, and pressing against the grate to see the rahasya as the Dikshitar priests drew open the curtain.

The external experience merged with my internal process, which was sometimes ferociously passionate, and at other times sweetly bewildering. I have written about all this and more, but the sensory experience still inhabits me so thoroughly that I soften my eyes and I am there with you now as I write these words.

During the Homa, Chidambaram, Dec 2010 – photo Frank Andolino

I have another teacher who showed me how people like me, whose minds are ever moving, ever flickering, sending off sparks of energy in all directions, can build palaces within ourselves with rooms upon rooms in which to meditate. In those rooms I can arrange things to create particular environments. Then I can go back and change it all around, redecorate to structure my meditations and to expand them. I have different rooms for different purposes and the content of the rooms gets rearranged when it suits me. Everywhere I’ve ever been and everything I’ve ever done resides in this inner landscape, my interior palace. This is the site on which I broke ground that day ten years ago. Although I was never not building it, that day was when I cut the ribbon and walked in. That was the day I began to lay claim to the palace within.

Roof of the Cit Saba (Hall of Consciousness), Chidambaram, Dec 2010 – photo Frank Andolino

I have already written that once you have been to Chidambaram, the temple takes up residence within you. And so it has. My friend Harrison Williams told me a couple of days ago that he dreamt of the temple, walking endlessly through its elaborate corridors. He remembered, with precision, where certain stones were cracked and loose and he could feel them beneath the soles of his feet in his dream as he made his way through, pausing to offer mantra and mudra at Ganesh, then Subrahmanya, at Dakshina Moorthi, and at the feet of Nataraja, just as you showed us.

Chidambaram Nataraja Temple Corridor, Dec 2010 – photo Frank Andolino

You have told us how in the north, the traditions tend to revolve around Tirtha – a place such as a river or mountain as a site of pilgrimage, whereas the southern traditions invite us to the temple to pay homage and to receive Darshan, the exchange of glances between the deity and ourselves. Inside of me I have temples, I have palaces, I have forests and fields. As I traverse my inner landscape, I wander across dry clear plains, rest in dense green thickets, and wind my way through the labyrinthine temples that have assembled themselves within me.

There are so many places to pause, so many reasons to bow down. Nothing has become simple and streamlined in my creative and spiritual practices. On the contrary, everything has become infinitely more complex and so wildly beautiful. This is our tradition, which utterly suits me. And for this, on our tenth anniversary of study together, Douglas, I thank you again and again and again.

Satsang with Douglas Brooks, Swamimalai Dec 2008

Special thanks to Frank Andolino for the his beautiful photos of our time in Chidambaram.


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Susanna Harwood Rubin

Susanna is passionately committed to finding beauty in everyday life. She is a yoga teacher-writer-visual artist, which means that she rarely stops moving except to meditate. She is ERYT-500, has been teaching for over 12 years, and travels regularly to South India to delve into the traditions of Rajanaka Yoga that inspire her work. Her spiritual home is the great Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram. She teaches internationally, but is based in New York. Find her weekly classes at Twisted Trunk Yoga and Abhaya Yoga . Susanna's artwork is represented in collections such as the UCLA Hammer Museum, the Berkeley Museum, and the Addison Gallery of American Art. She lectured and wrote for MoMA for years, including co-writing the book "Looking at Matisse and Picasso," and she will still happily talk about Picasso for hours if you ask her. Susanna currently writes on yoga, writing, art, and life for a number of publications, including The Huffington Post , Mantra Yoga+Health , Rebelle Society , and YOGANONYMOUS . She gives talks on yoga, Hindu myth, and philosophy, and created the popular Writing Your Practice workshops and telecourses for yogis, applying yoga philosophy and myth to the practice of writing. Overall, she is amazed at the richness of her life. Find her on Twitter , Facebook , & Instagram


28 Responses to “My Decade of Beauty – Building the Palace Within.”

  1. linda buzogany says:

    St. Teresa of Avila taught about the 'Interior Castle'; Caroline Myss wrote a book about her teachings…you may be interested. Beautiful writing, experiences. As I reside in my home in the foothills in Colorado day after day-everyday-this IS the way I travel. Beautiful photos.

  2. Thank you so much Linda! I am a big fan of St. Teresa of Avila – I actually included a picture I took of Bernini's Ecstacy of St Theresa in another post:… . I am not familiar with the Caroline Myss book though, so thank you for that suggestion. I look forward to checking it out!

  3. Posted to Elephant Main Facebook Page, my Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn.

    Bob W. Editor, Elephant Journal
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  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  5. Thank you, Tanya! My first 2012 post!

  6. Julie Margolis says:

    Amazing Susanna – So happy to be sharing a small part of the journey with you xx

  7. beadoyle says:

    Beautiful Susanna. I loved your speaking of the moment that shifted your life, and then the unfolding from there.

  8. Noah Mazé says:

    Beautiful, thank for sharing some part of your experience with us.

  9. Noah, my amazing friend, we have sat together with Douglas for many years – such great company – and you are always present with us at Chidambaram. Love!

  10. Shig Ogyu says:

    Susanna, I have just come back from this year's pilgrimage in Tamil Nadu. What a amazing journey! Douglas and I had a coversation about conversation. We weaved your essays, you, in our conversation. Conversations lead us to greatness, he says. We shall continue conversation. Keep great company.

    • I was there with you all in spirit – and texting back & forth with Douglas!! So I guess I was electronically there as well. I can remember being so entertained by the Dikshitars answering their phones in the middle of the Homa – all in a normal day's activities for them… Thank you for speaking my name in my favorite place. We are all in the midst of a great conversation together & are so fortunate. See you soon at Virayoga I hope! xos

  11. […] week marked 10 years of dedicated study with our favorite teacher of tantric yoga, Douglas Brooks. She reflected on it so beautifully. Thank goodness I have clever women in my life reminding me of important anniversaries. Do my wife […]

  12. […] My Decade of Beauty – Building the Palace Within. […]

  13. Awesome.home, inner rooms of a palace that lives within is reflected back to us by the pilgrammages we sought that continually brings us straight back into and unto ourselves. I bow to the architect you are with an eye for the beauty that bespeaks your every movement of thought and beingness. Love this. Will share….

  14. Thank you so much Amy – I look forward to reading more of your HuffPo writing – I love the direction you are going in with your years of yoga & your householder life wisdom – the yoga off the mat for me is also the greatest yoga.

  15. Linda Maria says:

    An amazing article Susanna! Thank you so much for your exquisite words. Looking forward to your Yoga & writing class in February!

  16. Teri Taylor says:

    Reading your piece I too was swept back to my 2 week India pilgrimage in January 2011. India with Douglas is a "must do". It is amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, enlightening and life changing. I am excited to take your writing class, we have much to share.

  17. […] like a magnetic field toward which I am irresistibly drawn. If you ever have the chance to attend a Homa, as I’ve previously written about, watch what is thrown into the fire – things that are […]

  18. […] you. There are infinite others because we are never just one being to the one we love. My teacher Douglas Brooks speaks about it like this: there is you, there is the other person, and there is relationship. […]

  19. […] on in Chidambaram for a few extra days at the end of a pilgrimage with my friend and teacher, Douglas Brooks, because I want to do exactly this- join my body to the other bodies in the Cit Sabha at night and […]

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