Nurturing Stillness in Chaos: India

A gorgeous photo taken by my friend, Dana. Seated nap in a monsoon.


"We like to think that life is action, that living is moving, that  animation is what generates anima.  But in fact stillness is a most  fertile breeding ground for ideas.  The problem is, modern life is  almost completely free of stillness.  Our hyperkinetic culture tries to colonize it, treating stillness as just one more flavor of stimulation  to choose from or one more task to accomplish. Scheduling is the enemy of imagination."

--from the Lincoln Centre for imagination, via my friend and colleague, Michele

 It has been raining; non-stop torrential downpours each day. Other than running to the Institute for morning practice and again for afternoon classes, we have been marooned inside. Once wet, you never fully dry in this humidity. So with the time, I have been reading. I just finished a book about Frank Oppenheimer, an American physicist who invented the atomic bomb with his brother and was so devastated by its affects that he devoted the rest of his life to using science for the greater good of mankind. He is the originator of the world renowned Exploratorium in San Francisco, a place that I have long admired for their approach to education. 

At the Exploratorium, they take play seriously. The believe that the arts and sciences are accessible to everyone.The original museum was free and had no scheduled programming so people could wonder in off the street and spend as much time as they needed to be curious and discover and learn, without agenda, interacting with strangers. In the book, the Exploratorium is often described as chaotic and I couldn't help but make comparisons to the streets of India. Sensory assault.  The Exploratorium's mission, when Frank was alive, was "to create a culture of learning through innovative environments, programs and tools that that help people nurture their curiosity about the world around them." 

I like that word nurture. It is a constant reminder here: practicing ahimsa on the mat and remembering not to go overboard with the intensity of the practice. With all the deep learning and thinking about our bodies and minds, with all the nurturing, needs also to come some stillness so that we can absorb.  As my wonderful colleague in museum education, Michele, says "it takes a lot of slow to grow."

So two weeks of being in India, with nearly two to go, and I am discovering that monsoon-trapped days of forced stillness and quiet are required. How else to absorb the teaching, learning and discovery I am doing here? Perhaps that is why every yoga practice ends with savasana, giving us time to absorb the learning....

Interestingly, chaotic India also offers little places of refuge for its citizens in these tiny glass-walled shrines. I took this photo through the window at a Ganesha shrine around the corner, but later took my shoes off, went in, kneeled at his feet and closed the door. Silence. Stillness. Amazing.

Ganesha through the window
"Stop talking, stop thinking, and there is nothing you will not understand"- Seng-Ts’an

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