In the world of all-things-yoga, the guru is often spoken about with a gushing of devotional upwelling.
This seemingly mystical person is seen as god incarnate, pure in every way, a wellspring of infinite wisdom and knowledge. The guru is so perfect that they fart rose scents, are completely detached, and to even disagree with a guru is to bring the wrath of all nine hells down upon your head.
Ironically, everything people attribute to a guru has nothing to do with reality, and has more to do with being able to see the best self that a person can be within by seeing it first in somebody else.
How do I know this ?
Because for 33 months I lived with and worked as a personal assistant to Yogi Amrit Desai, the founder of Kripalu University and Amrit Yoga School of Yoga.
And during that time, my eyes were opened to a simple fact.
To be human is to be divine.
All kinds of people come to ashrams, some for programs, and some to live and delve into a spiritual life. My moving into an ashram was accidental. During the month I went to live there and learn some of the basics of yoga, my girlfriend of nearly five years cheated on me and then dumped me. I was pretty devastated, and as a result was a real piece of work. The seva, selfless service, that was given to me I hated—and nothing could convince me that sitting in an office and answering phones was divine work.
I was resistant and vocal about it.
Everybody in the ashram wanted to kick me out, except for Yogi Desai. Instead of giving me the boot, he brought me into his home office to work by his side as a transcriptionist and assistant editor.
Yogi Desai has the unique ability to see past the surface level of people. Where most people judge, condemn and discard a person for their human traits, Yogi Desai looked past my heart-break, pride and short-comings and saw something else. He saw potential. He believed in me. And for that I will be forever grateful.
Living in an ashram was a huge change in lifestyle for me. After graduating college, I had answered to nobody. Earning a living as an entrepreneur and artist, my schedule was my own. However, the ashram life requires yielding to a group way of doing things so that all involved may work together harmoniously,
Needless to say, I resisted almost everything from getting up early, to being on time to morning practice and then seva, to the group meetings and most especially the private meetings where the upper echelons of the ashram would try to talk me into behaving like a good devotee.
The more pressure put on me to conform, the more my individualistic tendencies and rebellious nature would emerge.
Yogi Desai took a different approach with me. He would require me to be present in the morning, six days a week. He would wake up at some unthinkable time and journal for hours. When I’d arrive, at some point he’d hand me a stack of papers that were, at first, totally illegible to me. I had problems deciphering the scrawl he claimed was hand-writing and developed many early morning headaches from trying to puzzle out words, odd phrases and sentence fragments. He’d also ask me to edit what he had wrote, so that it’d be readable.
Those morning hours were full of wonder for me. I wondered how to read his hand-writing. I wondered how to make it make sense. Most of all, I used to wonder at how he could be up so early to write and it took me years to realize how it was possible.
Discipline is not hard effort. Discipline is the easiest thing in the world when devoted.
Discipline and devotion are two core components to the yogic lifestyle. Growing in a society that equates discipline with military, hard work, and punishment, I wanted nothing to do with discipline. And all I could see of devotion was super emotionalism that made me want to vomit.
What I eventually came to recognize is that discipline is the easiest thing in the world when devotion is at its core. Devotion is not emotion—it is love. Devotion is essential to having a balanced, healthy life. Being devoted to family, to right effort, and to true service brings inner peace, equanimity, and fulfillment in life. I am still learning about devotion, and will to the end of my days.
To do what you love, everyday, is as natural as breathing.
Most days, I’d end up sitting at the desk in Yogi Desai’s office typing and editing into the late afternoon, and sometimes evening. I really loved learning about yoga, the history and mysticisms of it. I was particularly fascinated to discover the emotional and psychological components to it and to discover techniques for self-liberation.
Yogi Desai would usually be sitting there next to me, and in truth he had to because I was so restless that I’d be out the door in a flash to go on walks in the forest or play music.
Discipline is as difficult only to the same degree of resistance.
One of the things that he’d do that at first drove me crazy was how he’d revisit a sentence or a phrase, repeatedly. We would spend hours, literally, restructuring a sentence. And somehow one word or key phrase would blossom into a whole new discussion about an esoteric yogic detail. It took me a great deal of time to understand the importance of details.
God is in the details.
The little things of life are not little things. They are the moments and aspects of the living experience that are gone for good, once having happened. Just as the devil is in the details, so is the divine. To appreciate the divine is to recognize and appreciate mundane tasks, repetitive action, and the commonplace.
It is too easy for seekers on the spiritual path to look at another person and think that they are the bee’s knees, gods word made flesh, and to forget that they are just as special. In a planet that has billions of people, the individual is often overlooked as insignificant and tiny. But nothing is further from the truth.
The divine abides in each of us, most especially when acting with devotion and the discipline to follow through. Then the most beautiful traits of humanity can blossom. And rather than forcing change on the world, the world changes because the individual has first changed, and their influence becomes a beacon of hope, light and possibility.
And that is the true power of the guru.
They reveal the potential inherent within each of us, and gives hope to the sincere seeker that one day self-limitations will be transcended so the best aspects within will shine brightly.
That to be human is to be divine.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Wiki Commons