By Kate Rabinowitz, June, 2011
Two days ago, on my email, I received what I thought was a spam for bogus financial help. It read, “Dear Kate, I am Habib and I am very sorry to tell you I have lost everything when Earthquake and Tsunami happened here in Japan. I am in a very very hard condition. I have no job, no food, and no money. Please help me all of you as much as can. I request from my heart to you. I was going to die, but my life was saved. I have lost everything else. I have set up PayPal account firstname.lastname@example.org by a kind heart person. Kindly ask to all devotees, friends and in your yoga teaching classes for their kind help for me. Best regards to you, in divine love together, Habib Khan.”
I was ready to hit delete when I realized I knew Habib and have spoken to him occasionally for years. He is Indian and in the 1960s and 70s was the driver for Neem Karoli Baba, a saint in the Himalayas. His stories are always wonderful. He chauffeured a saint through mysteries and wonders. Talking with him was hearing about a level of consciousness beyond any of my previous experience. It was a place where everything is connected with ease and lightness, the union which is the real aim of yoga.
Then out of the blue I received this email. Yes, the Tsunami happened. I’ve been in touch with Japanese friends who were there. But this sounded like a fabricated spam letter, the kind you get from someone saying their passport and money and airline tickets have been stolen, please wire money instantly so they can return home.
Later that night I talked to Habib on Skype and heard how the Tsunami had really devastated the country. It is much worse than anything we hear about, and the earthquakes continue. He said you never know, but every other day there is something, a tremor, a flood, sickness, radiation leakage… enough to keep people from sleeping at night, children wearing helmets to bed. Enough to take away the confidence in the world they are living in, with jobs and food and family and health. Nothing is taken for granted. There is deep psychological trauma and people’s economic lives are in ruins.
Habib is truly suffering, holding the weight of the biggest earthquake and nuclear disaster in history in the microcosm of his life. He is a yoga teacher, an English teacher, as I was in Japan twenty years ago. Now he has only two students left, his others have left the area and others are looking for any work to keep going. I thought it would be great if yoga classes were packed and people were meditating and practicing yoga to cope. But right now everyone is just trying to survive.
In my own life I have been thinking about Santosha, one of the Niyamas (restraints) of the eight-limbed yoga. Santosha means contentment, not coveting more than you have and not taking more than you need, renouncing the desire to acquire. It is liberating, not needing so MUCH to be happy, and becoming free of the chattering mind and the insatiable wanting of the ego. The contentment of Santosha means a change of perspective to what we have instead of what we don’t have. The cup of suffering that maybe half full or half empty is always full when there is contentment.
Santosha is a gateway to Tapasya. Tapasya, or straightening by fire, is austerity, bringing heat to burn through impurities. It is taps the “essential energy” which leads toward purification and enlightenment.
Asana practice is a perfect place to explore this. As years go by I see how my yoga practice mirrors all that is happening in my body-mind-spirit. Some days it’s smooth and exhilarating, sometimes stiff and tired. If I face where I AM, not where I think I should be, or where I was yesterday, then I am in Santosha. If I drop into that place completely, experience the bliss and life force, there is the urge to go deeper, rinse the cells with oxygen, stretch the muscle fibers in all possible directions, be fluid in the joints, stay a little longer in the pose to feel the muscles strengthen and support. Then there is the breath, going deeper, taking it in more on the inhale, releasing more on the exhale.
In yoga practice Santosha means knowing what is enough, how to let go of what is excessive. In the asana balance is not a state of inertia, it is a constant dance, refining and redefining the center. From the center all things evolve. Santosha says I do not need any more, who I am is the quiet eye of the storm where it is peaceful, timeless and loving.
Teaching or studying yoga is a privilege and a humbling journey. People in the yoga community commit to deepening their involvement and their practice every day. Yoga is a gift, a blessing in itself. Imagine if there were no studios, no students, no teachers, no safe environment, no clean air to breathe, no food or water to sustain our bodies, no shelter at night. For me the darkness of Habib’s circumstance contrasts with the light of the blessings that are here and now, in a yoga studio, in a sangha. There is suffering here but there is also health, ease, joy and abundance. But we are all in it together. Habib said he remains alive now to share and to inform others.
Speaking with Habib, reminding him that friends and his extended family are with him, that people are gathering and sending support, moved him deeply. I saw him shift from despair to feeling the love from this very extended family – of which we are all members.