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Yoga Initiation

Yoga began for me when I unexpectedly received shaktipat in Vancouver, BC in 1988.

My friend Edward was a follower of an Indian Meditation master named Gurumayi and he invited me to come and see her at the Orpheum Theatre downtown. I had no interest in following a Guru and as a Westerner I didn’t really understand what that meant and it wasn’t a part of my cultural experience. Even though I had studying to do that evening I went because I was curious and I trusted my friend.

I arrived late and the evening program had already started. Someone led me in the darkened theatre to an empty seat and I was immediately struck by the peaceful feeling in the room and the effect the chanting had on me.

After the chant and some meditation she gave a talk on trusting yourself and then the program was over. It was followed by a practice called darshan where people walk up to the Guru and maybe say a few words or she says something and she brushes people's heads with a long stick with peacock feathers on it. I thought this was pretty hokey and I left the theatre and made my way onto Granville street to walk to the bus stop.

I didn’t get far before a very compelling feeling overtook me that I HAD to go back for darshan, that I was missing something important.

So I turned around and then waited for 45 minutes of so in a long line that snaked through the halls and lobby of the theatre. When I got to the door of the theatre and walked in I began to feel a vibration in my chest and a feeling of lightness and expansion in my head. I wondered what was going on and continued toward the stage where Gurumayi was. When we finally reached the stage Edward introduced me and she looked at me and bopped me on the head with the huge feather duster and that is when everything fell away. I had no access to words or speaking. All my ideas, thoughts, needs and worries were replaced with an indescribable love. Not love for something, by something, but the experience that everything IS love. It wasn’t an idea, it was the experience of it.

I said goodbye to my friend and made my way to the bus stop where a family was trying to figure out which bus to take. I helped them figure out the schedule and was established in the deep quiet love for them, for all things.

For several days I was absorbed in this state of equanimity and love and the experience has never left me.

A couple of years later I enrolled in the Siddha Yoga Correspondence Course and these daily lessons were my contemplation and meditation for seven years. I received so much from this practice and one of the most important was to recognize that the spiritual path is like a bird. One wing is grace and the other is effort.

How does this apply to my shaktipat story? My effort (and a pretty small one at that) was accepting my friend’s invitation and meeting Gurumayi. The Grace was shaktipat initiation. In our culture we are taught that everything comes from effort. It’s a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” approach to living. It’s true, nothing much will happen if we never get out of bed but Grace is an EQUAL force to effort.

Grace requires us to LET GO of things being how we think we want them. I could have stayed in my smug disdain of people who would stand in line for an hour to get bopped on the head by a big feather duster or could let go of my preconceptions and established beliefs and be open to new experience.

It’s not so hard to understand grace, really. Isn’t it a miracle that life even exists? That the earth happens to be the perfect distance from the sun to support life so, that mosquitos aren't the size of school buses, that we are capable of building things and working towards our dreams, of managing grief and loss, isn’t it a miracle that our bodies work pretty darn well most of the time. Isn’t it grace that there was a long line of people before us that had children and then they had children and then they had us and we get to experience life, seeing and breathing and feeling, isnt it grace that we woke up again this morning?!

When we approach life from this perspective grace is ever-present. Any effort we can make becomes the least we can do to honour that gift. The goal of the mind-body integration practice we call yoga is freedom. Freedom from attachment and aversion.

Shaktipat was an unexpected moment of grace that made freedom an embodied experience, a recognition of what is actually real: that I am pure awareness, that the person who is seeking liberation is already free, the effort now is simply to remove the veils, that cover the constant experience of that reality.