I have been extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to travel the world to teach and share my experience of Iyengar Yoga. This has been a life altering experience. And while my travels bring many challenges, they too are a big part of why it is so rewarding. For this essay, I want to share some key aspects of those rewards and challenges, ones of a personal nature.
I think I am drawn to travel partly because of the heightened sense of presence that I feel when doing so. Travel requires me to let go into the present, and it this that I find very striking. I like how many things, things that I thought were important, lose their constant and distracting grip on my psyche. These little things are slowly—and sometimes not so slowly—replaced with what I know in my body is truly important. And that is to stay awake in this life, to stay present, as fully present as possible. And to live as fully as possible. This is not easy. One need not travel to learn this—but this is what I am learning by traveling.
I am also learning to relax (a little) with uncertainty because that is the nature of travel. This is a requirement if one is to enjoy the experience of travel. I have had to relax and be okay with all sorts of mishaps and curve balls. I am slowly learning what many of us have been told over and over again. And that is the simple fact that we create, or exacerbate much of our own experience of what is stressful or stress worthy. Stressing out over that which you cannot control is human but also self destructive, depleting, and way too much of a vital energy drain. Some stress in life (and while traveling) is inevitable, but too much stress (especially of the type we create for ourselves) obstructs the very presence that is essential when navigating a new environment.
I also cannot discount that at times during my travels I have felt lonely. I actually love being alone, actively seek solitude, and think that is partly what inspires me to accept the invitations that have come my way—invitations that have allowed me to travel and teach, which I find immensely rewarding. It is rewarding on many levels. And on a personal level, it is the simplicity and solitude that tends to shape my life during travel (like being alone with less stuff) that I love. I often let my hosts know that I like living and being alone when I am not teaching, and ask that we keep socializing to a minimum. And because of this, and because I am away from my familiar life in NYC, there are times when I experience what I can only describe as a kind of deep inner loneliness. That is what happened on my most recent trip. But it was okay. It was even interesting, to watch this loneliness, to inquire into it, to wonder where it lived in my body. What it was exactly.
Yoga teaches us that we can change our experience by what we choose to pay attention to. And I chose to pay attention to these feelings of loneliness. I watched when and where they arose in my body. It felt like they manifested as empty space surrounding my heart—as in the actual organ of my still beating heart. Do you know the moat of water that surrounds a castle? Well, this was like a moat of space around the castle of my heart. And I had to let myself feel this space—this emptiness, and stay in there and be okay with it.
It was in this emptiness that I began to empathize more deeply with my mother at this stage in her life. This was unexpected—it felt almost like a message, one of our shared inner loneliness. It reached me over thousands and thousands of miles. All the way from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Melbourne, Australia. I realized that she too might have what feels like an empty space around her heart, especially after the loss of my father and the loss of her house and home of more than fifty years. This experience was an unexpected gift of my most recent journey. This visit to the empty space around my heart. This space where I could feel with, and share loneliness with someone so far away and yet so close. It is funny that I visited this place by traveling all the way to the other side of the planet.
This empty space around my heart was once again filled when my husband visited me for a week in Hong Kong. His physical presence was like a soothing balm that filled this space as if he were literally inside of my chest cavity and touching the organ of my heart with his warmth and his love. I felt this space soften and expand and become full again as my breastbone pressed against the side of his arm while resting beside one another in the middle of the night. I was home again, with him, far away in Hong Kong. Presence can be that—like a huge gift that we can give each other and ourselves—this opportunity to be present to what ever we are feeling, and to experience this presence as a form of love that allows for everything, even an experience of emptiness, or loneliness, to be okay.
I know it sounds so cliché to say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But I think like all clichés it is based in something true. To feel a sense of absence in our own life sometimes is to know the power of presence. Through presence, and absence, we find essence. And that essence is love.