This morning, we all went into the Shala for 8am practice. As usual, Bodhi and his young friends Issac and Abbie came in and stood next to me all in a line for the invocation. Like little devas, they flit around the shala, settling in to visit and bringing great energy to all of us.
Before we began, our Guru, Prem, asked us to sit down. He had something to tell us. This is kind of an unusual request. If there is something to be said, generally his beautiful partner, Rhada, makes whatever announcement, and then we begin with the usual invocation.
We all took a seat. Prem began to try to speak, but there was only silence. He took a breath and settled quietly into himself. We waited, wondering. When Prem has something important to share, there is quiet. He does not rush. He listens for his mind and heart to quiet. When I watch, it is like I am watching the human emotion settle like sand to the bottom of the lake, and for space to open up. He becomes taller, but not by straining. When that space is there, he speaks. Watching him prepare to share is as big a lesson as whatever he is about to say.
He tried to speak a few times, he didn’t seem to struggle against it, trying to get it under control, so much as open his mouth to speak and realize his heart wasn’t prepared. More had to settle. We sat quietly. What could have happened to rock Prem so hard? Bodhi waited, still, beside me. Abby looked at me, her six year old heart concerned for her friend Prem.
Prem opened his eyes. “Today is the day that Guruji died.” he said, unable to keep the sadness from his voice. “Four years ago today.”
Prem and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
He looked up at the photo on the post at the front of the shala. His loss laid bare. Pattabhi Jois was like a father to Prem, he had been his teacher, his guiding heart, his Goo Remover, since 1979. He had touched every part of Prem’s life. Patabi Jois had pushed him, and ignored him, bothered him, and worked with him, and loved him, just like a father.
Prem took a breath and told us a little about their connection, about how hard it was to be without him, about how much Patabi Jois had touched their lives both Rhada’s and his. He shared as he struggled at the front of the class.
One of the things that’s magic about Prem is that he can talk to a whole room of people, some of whom he just met today, like he’s talking to a bunch of friends over lunch. One of his many gifts is transparent authenticity. He showed us his loss and his love for Guruji. It was simple, beautiful, sad and grateful. It looked just like love.
“Today,” he said, “I want to honor all the teachers. They are in front of us and in back of us like an infinite mirror in a fun house. Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya, before him all the way back to Patanjali. And before him, and before him, all the way back to Vishnu, Bramha, Shiva and their Shaktis.” He squeezed Rhada’s hand. She balances him. He honors her for it.
“Would that be okay? If we dedicate our practice today to Guruji?” he looked at us, searching. Of course.
As we chanted our gratitude for the teachers, and their teachers, and the infinite lineage of teachings we can receive, I found my own face wet with tears. It wasn’t the loss that I was looking at. It wasn’t longing or attachment, necessarily. It looked like emptiness. What it looked like to me was that Guruji was no longer there for Prem to express gratitude to. And Prem, in that moment, missed him.
I know this feeling. To be full of love, to have so much thanks to give, and to have the vessel you want to pour it into to be incapable of receiving.
Human attachment is a difficult thing. How do we love, how do we give, how do we intertwine, teach each other, hold each other up, boost each other over obstacles, hold each other’s feet to the fire, and not miss each other when we are gone?
I think its okay to miss someone. Bodhi and I talk about this a lot. Missing someone means you love them. When you miss them a lot, it is an indication of how strong your love for that person is. If, in that space, we can find gratitude to have felt connection that deep, we are truly blessed.
If, in the space of missing we begin wishing, this is when attachment begets suffering. I don’t believe that experiencing loss mean you are experiencing attachment and that is a BAD thing. It means you are feeling your human heart.
We are human. We are meant to feel ourselves, this is how we learn, how we grow, how we become more than we are. There is loss. Feel it. Welcome it. It is now your teacher. To have had a love so great, a guide so strong, a teacher so important vanish from your life is devastating. He is gone. No amount of wishing will change that. But in that hollow, echoey space where Guruji used to be, there is the edge of longing, but also an enormous space, a space big enough to fill with gratitude. With the gratitude of Prem and Rhada, who learned at his feet, and with the gratitude of all the students in an infinite line who sit at their feet.
I was so grateful that Bodhi was in the shala this morning. I don’t know how much of this is leaking in, but some of it does. And today, Bodhi, who struggles with lessons, saw someone he respects enormously have gratitude for teachers.
Prem’s voice grew stronger as he chanted the opening prayer. The shala filled with voices. This morning, Prem taught all of us, but today we learned about loss and love and gratitude before we even came to the front of our mat.