When I first met Sri Swami Satyananda forty years ago, the absolutely last thing I was looking for was another man to tell me how to run my life! I was already in love with pawanmuktasana, yoga nidra and the shatkarmas, which were helping me become an ex-asthmatic as well as guiding me towards discovering deeper levels of my mind/heart/psyche. In fact, I was very happy and grateful that yoga had come into my life. And that was it, I thought, until I found myself going to France to meet Swami Satyananda, compelled by some force that had nothing to do with logic, nothing to do with my will, my desire.
However, sitting in front of Sri Swamiji for the first class of the day something happened that changed my life for ever. I never questioned it, never tried to resist it, and never will.
In those early years I do not think that we all realized quite how blessed we were to be in the presence of and under the guidance of such a being. And I often wish that I had recorded everything he said too, and paid even more attention to the many lessons which came in various forms. I remember thinking that he had taken over the controls of the car and that I was not ‘driving’ my life at all! And this was powerfully and literally illustrated one day, driving Sri Swamiji from Heathrow Airport into London, with Swami Atmananda in the back seat. As we came off the motorway at high speed I braked, but to no avail – nothing happened! Sri Swamiji was sitting innocently beside me, looking out of the window, as I discreetly tried the handbrake, a gear change, even the steering wheel – nothing worked! “What a way to go,” I thought, “with my guru next to me. Hari Om Tat Sat.” And as we approached an imposing set of traffic lights, the controls of the car magically returned! Later, when I asked Swami Atmananda if she was aware of what was going on, she just smiled enigmatically.
Much to my surprise, Sri Swamiji told me that I must teach yoga, and I went to Swami Atmananda’s ashram in Belfast because Sri Swamiji was going to be there, teaching and guiding a month’s course. After shankhaprakshalana on the first day, we were offered white bread and sliced raw onion for dinner! We all knew that we shouldn’t be eating that, and when we complained to Sri Swamiji he just said, “If you want to be yoga teachers, eat it!”
As time went by, Sri Swamiji moved me to a south London suburb I had never heard of, had me sacked from ‘my’ model agency and sent people to my door asking for yoga classes. Somehow he made me into a yoga teacher, not by sending me to India to study nor by suggesting lengthy teacher training courses in Britain, but by a miraculous process known as ‘transmission’. And this miracle continues to this day, and will continue even though Sri Swamiji is no longer in his body; and I feel sure that it is only the highest and wisest of beings who have this gift of passing on knowledge to others in this way. Over the years I have met other disciples who, like me, have never been formally trained as yoga teachers, but who have become effective transmitters of yogic wisdom. This is an aspect of guru’s grace, and one for which I give thanks every day.
Towards the end of the seventies, I felt drawn to the idea of asking Sri Swamiji for karma sannyasa diksha, having read about it in Yoga magazine. It seemed the perfect initiation for someone like me, very involved with my children, my friends, music, politics . . . life, in fact! But when I did pluck up the courage to ask him, he said, “What are you talking about, there is no such thing,” and walked away. Later, in Dublin in 1979 he told me that I was ‘for the big one’ and initiated me into poorna sannyasa, with the instruction to “simplify your personal life”. Wise words indeed. Wise, because simplicity is something I could understand and aspire for And this is another example of Sri Swamiji’s infinite wisdom, and how he trains each one appropriately. There does not seem to be a blueprint of a ‘good disciple/swami’ – he clearly sees our potential, our path and guides us each, one by one, step by step.
When I eventually went to Munger in 1985, I met young swamis, wise beyond their years, whose yoga practice was gardening, cleaning and construction; others who had never been to a yoga class in their life teaching courses and programs in the ashram. BSY is known for the excellence of its teaching and teachers, but this did surprise me initially. The gradual unfolding of ‘real’ yoga before my very eyes is indeed a wonder without limitations.
Re-reading the above paragraphs, I am reminded yet again that it is impossible for a finite little human mind to comprehend the infinite. It is likewise nearly impossible to describe the length, breadth and depth of the guru-disciple relationship, except to other disciples. It is more than any merely human relationship, which is why, on some level it has been hard, these past weeks, to adjust to his leaving. With the passing of a much loved relative or friend the emotional attachment implicit in that relationship allows one to weep and wail, to ‘miss’ the departed person. And yes, I will miss Sri Swamiji’s physical presence – his eyes, his laughter, his hands – but on another level he is always here, with us, and I can’t possibly miss him.
What I can and must do though, is to carry on trying to fulfil his instructions to me, to continue being a channel for this beautiful, transforming system of yoga he has entrusted us with - in his own words: “Teach yoga – a lot – and don’t take long holidays.” What a privilege to be able to do this.
So, thank you, beloved Sri Swamiji, for your love, guidance and inspiration in this life and for lifetimes to come, not only for me, but for the thousands of people worldwide who have experienced your infinite grace.