Thursday, September 20, 2012

yoga, love and marriage

It’s been an interesting journey recently. As usual, filled with a variety of themes. Love and yoga, of course, are constants, but also the idea of marriage. Though each have their particular connotations, they all mean love, they all mean union. Three similar strands woven into my summer tangle.      

For me, it started with an innocent thought after a long separation from the beloved. One that I might have easily kept locked securely in my head, but instead shared quite freely, without inhibition. How at that moment I had wanted to say the words that I had hoped to one day hear from someone that I loved and esteemed, with whom "as long as we both shall live" might not seem like much time at all. Though I hadn't meant to propose, the idea had captured us both. 

The glow of possibility lasted for about a week. That's when a combination of reality and fear set in, causing the entire relationship to scale back into the shadows of undefinability. And though that saddened me, I have to admit that it also appealed to the part of me that is dead-scared of "marriage" and its evil twin "separation."

Because I must love torturing myself, I decided to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow-up to her best selling “Eat Pray Love"--which  I reread last summer just as I was going through my own heart-breaking (and as it turns out, heart changing/mending) drama. I obviously have an affinity for good ole Liz!

In “Committed,” the obsessive compulsive (but charmingly so!) writer talks herself into marrying her partner Philippe, who is abruptly ejected from the Unites States, her home country. Since Philippe is Brazilian and the US Immigration is more pragmatic then romantic, Philippe was deported after too many extended stays. In order to continue co-habitating in the US, the couple decide to get married--a horrifying thought for two survivors of tragic divorces from their first marriages.

Gilbert delves into how marriage is viewed in different cultures. How the institution has performed certain functions throughout history, from practical day to day survival, to the fiscal, to community-building. How the expectation of happiness from marriage is relatively new to the scene. How there is power embedded in the act of marriage. How there has been a fight as to who might control this power, from the outlaw of slave marriages to the more recent issue of gay marriages in the US. She makes a pretty good argument on why marriage is an act of great subversiveness, one I liked greatly and one which she favors in the end.

Then I arrived in England just in time to celebrate the ruby wedding anniversary of my friend's parents. The precious red gem is a symbol of great achievement, which suits 40 years of matrimony. It was a low key event, a handful of friends, a lovely meal at a well-appointed local pub, and then champagne, tea and cake at home. The entire day was charming. The sun had come out, the first really nice day since I'd landed. Before lunch, I watched this beautiful older couple excitedly open all their greeting cards, for 40 years inspires many well-wishers, and then give to each other some thoughtfully picked presents: ruby jewelry, a painting admired at an exhibition, a handmade commemorative plate topped with stem ginger chocolate. After lunch, I watched the two cut--in a similar fashion as their wedding day, which was ensured by the comedic best man who made certain all appropriate customs for a ruby anniv were properly observed--into the most moist and drinkable homemade fruit cake, topped with a ceramic groom dipping his bride, a decorative piece that they shopped for together.

For someone like myself, whose parents divorced when I was young, seeing all this is like receiving a soothing, warm balm. It's one thing to contemplate marriage, another thing completely to see it last a lifetime.

Dani and Kalyani's "altar."

Just this last weekend, my new friends Dani and Kalyani got married. Their altar: the dramatic landscape of Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park in the Spanish Pyranees. Their witnesses: a hundred twenty or so of their friends and family, as well as Mother Nature herself. Theirs is a union steeped in yoga. They met in India just this spring, noticing each other singing to the Devine Mother at the temple at the Sivandanda Ashram in Kerala. They are now, combining dreams, building and running Casa Cuadrau, a beautiful new retreat center in the Village of Vio.

For me, the timing of their meeting is perfect. There was Dani, half a decade, building a house—a foundation for a dream and a life’s calling—which was finally nearly ready. There was Kalyani, at a crossroad, leaving Toronto, pondering her return to Mexico with a desire to start her own yoga project. 

This is what I believe: the goddess, in her infinite wisdom, drew them both towards each other. Both had the intention of sharing deeply. Dani had built a house. But together, Kalyani and Dani will build a home. Together, they bring balance. The masculine and the feminine, shiva and shakti, manifest power and infinite creative potential. Their energies will compliment each other. Their mutual love for yoga and their dedication to share from the heart will light the home fire. With their warmth and light, Casa Cuadrau will grow, and so, I suspect, will they.

All these instances seem intertwined with my own love story this season. There are two story lines, actually: loving myself and loving another, which also intersect/collide accordingly. 

When I was in Madrid last week, I recalled my last trip to the old Spanish city, almost a year and a half ago. I was walking down one of the romantic little side streets of La Latina, telling a friend, who I was swiftly falling in love with, how I didn't have any role models when it came to married couples, how I was determined to be my own role model. And then, caught up in the moment, we kissed.  

I wonder now what kind of a role model I've made since then. Though unmarried, I have certainly welcomed love. I've chased it down. I've given it freely. I've rejoiced at receiving it. I have mourned the moments when it felt as if it were being taken away. I have, on occasion, lost myself in the other, a very very bad habit, I know. I have had expectations. I have been fearful. I have been grasping.

I grew up believing in fairy tales, that there was a charming prince around the corner waiting to save the distressed damsel. When I was older, I began to be fascinated by the concept of soul mates. I was enchanted by creation myths that illustrated the separation of two, the division of lovers, destined to search for one another. All of which reinforced this idea that to feel whole, you had to be in love.

At some point in my adulthood, I gave up on these ideals. In fact, I think I'd given up on love completely. But that day in Madrid and many other days afterwards have changed that.

Over the last couple of years, however, what keeps on coming up for me is that I need to rescue myself. I need to recognize the soul mate deep within. That wholeness is inherent in me, as with everyone. Again, that I need to be my own role model. Concepts that seem so clear and yet seem so easy to forget at the most crucial times. I wholeheartedly believe that if I can keep that self-love steady, then the love for the other will become more fluid, more seamless. And if there is no one particular soul to pour such a river of love into, all is still well.

A couple of weeks ago, Kalyani was telling me about the vows she and Dani plan to share. She explained that she wanted to express how her happiness didn't depend on Dani, nor his on her. Instead, they wanted to share each other's happiness, which was already full to begin with. I guess I feel pretty lucky, the universe seems to once again have my back, sending me role models when I falter at being my own.

For me, this has been this season's yoga, filled with the challenges of connection and the gifts of love. No matter what, it is still love. Love teaches. Love connects. Love lives in all of us.

Friday, September 14, 2012

casa cuadrau, a special kind of bicycle

Casa Cuadrau, approaching the Village of Vio.

Casa Cadrau
When I first arrived at Vio, a small (and small is an overstatement here) village nestled within the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, my jaw dropped. The Valley of Vio is a throwback to another era, and its surrounding landscape, the majestic mountains and canyons of the Spanish Pyranees, inspires wonder.  

And the awe of first arriving continued in the day-to-day at Casa Cuadrau, a retreat center conceptualized and manifested by Daniel Benito Po, who fell in love with the beauty of the area nearly a decade ago. The lovely retreat center, which is run by Dani and his fiancé (very soon to be wife) Kalyani, opened its doors just four weeks ago.

And as the two planned their wedding, they simultaneously took part in the two one-week retreats that I also taught and participated in, as well putting together the countless finishing touches on the house (with the help of some beautiful souls) that has taken 5 years of Dani’s time, patience, and love. 

Ultimately, no words can truly express how special this place really is, for it is at once a gateway to both the old and the new: a retreat center built for inner exploration and transformation, evident by those who are drawn here. As a writer, however, I must give the job of trying to express in words this very special place, one that is best experienced, a decent try.

The Bicycle

Dani, on the soon to be terrace of Casa Cuadrau.
We shouldn’t just dare to dream, we should dare to make each dream, however crazy, a reality.

In Satsang, Dani shares a funny story from a very sad book, Pirineos Montes Tristes or “Sad Pyrenees Mountains”. The title alone says a lot about this region of Aragon.

Life was hard in the Spanish Pyrenees, even in the 20th century, Dani explains, people were poor and winters were cold. The village men either took their sheep down the valley for the entire winter or crossed over La Braca de Rodin on foot—three days trek from Vio—to the sunnier more prosperous French Pyranees, where they worked to bring back money—and something French made.

Wall clocks, which were totally novel in these remote parts, became a staple piece of utilitarian decoration in the homes of men who bravely crossed over to France. Fine proof of the work abroad. The mechanisms and pulleys, precious miniature cargo, crossed on men’s backs as they walked across the snow pass between the Spanish and French Pyrenees. Houses for the clocks were then hand-made in Vio with local materials before it could be proudly hung on the wall.

These timepieces were a good buy. The parts were light and easy to carry. They had real purpose. And they displayed French style and ingenuity.

The bicycle, then, was an unlikely purchase by a villager of Vio. It was an unquenchable fascination, so ill fitting for a place with no roads, only rocks and sheep. He struggled with the idea: the expense of it (an entire winter’s wages, a great deal more than clock parts) and, well, the logistics of transporting an entire bicycle across difficult wintry passage. Still he couldn’t get it out of his mind. All he could think about, dream about was a bicycle.

Until, one day, he just did it. Returned to Vio with, of all things, a bicycle. Somehow managed to carry the unwieldy thing across the steep snow-filled mountain passes. Everyone came to see it. To marvel at him demonstrating how the machine worked in his living room.

He was surely talked about. Even laughed at for his lack of practicality, for how he carried the bicycle across the steep and snowy mountain pass, for how—in Vio—he pushed and pulled on his bicycle in terrain so unyielding, how he walked, not rode, the bicycle alongside his furry keep.

The way Dani reads it, laughing out the words as he describes this man’s passion for the novel invention that represented the idea of France, which itself undoubtedly epitomized a richer, more colorful, more creative, more ingenuous way of living for one so used to humbler ways of life, so untouched by change or innovation, I am reminded that Casa Cuadrau is Dani’s bicycle.

I sit here, now, privileged enough to be a beneficiary of Dani’s crazy dream. Privileged because there’s a roof over my head and a wonderfully equipped kitchen, in which gifted Karma yogis produce nutritiously divine food, and a peaceful yoga shala on the top floor from whose windows the landscape quietly and majestically reveals itself.

When this dream began, Casa Cuadrau, originally erected 1515, was in ruins, leftovers of a house forgotten by time. It was in 2006 that Dani, who had been searching for property to buy in Vio for two years, first saw the for-sale sign.  Already he had a vision in mind.

Casa Cuadrau continues to be a work in progress.
And beautifully so...
Slowly, Dani breathed life into the old structure. It took five years, the sale of a Zaragoza apartment he inherited, the great opposition from his father who thought he was crazy, many cold winters (the summers are short in these parts, I’ve been told) sleeping in a drafty storehouse with all his clothes layered on, huddling tightly against a small heater, practicing yogasana restricted by his padded layers and by uneven floorboards. It’s taken much of his personal resources and a lot of volunteer work in form of karma yoga to rehabilitate the house using traditional architecture and materials, preserving the beauty of the structure and revitalizing it for its new use as a retreat center, a place for self-exploration, through the nature that surrounds this valley, through the art that it inspires and through whole-hearted yoga practice.

And so like a phoenix from the ashes, Casa Cuadrau returned to life. A bicycle of a very special order, bringing young blood into Vio, at first to help take part in building the dream, and now to help make the dream come to life.

Some might say that Vio has not changed much since the arrival of the first bicycle. The village is still remote. The Spanish Pyrenees continue to be magical, and mysterious, and the weather, unpredictable. Presently, there are only about 6 residents that live in the village year-round.

But life here nowadays is not like it was fifty years ago. The advent of electricity and running water has returned some villagers to their home. New ones have come to rebuild—and they come with new dreams, new ideas. Dani and Casa Cuadrau represent not just a revival of the old village, but also hope for its future. It represents a new way of living, and not just here, but everywhere.

I can’t help but imagine how the old villager might approve of Dani’s “bicycle,” how he might nod approvingly at the resurrection of the old house, how he might like to examine its new features, how he might like to try a yoga class or sit for meditation, sample some raw desert or join the kirtan (devotional singing). He would be pleased to see how Dani had turned something old into something incredibly innovative, that the wheels on Casa Cuadrau were really turning, moving—“moving” in every sense of the word, for this is a place of karma, of action (how else did it get built!), it’s a place for shifting and transformation, it’s a place for people to mix and come together, it’s a place that inspires and is inspired.