I am what some people in my circles will call a "recovering yogi". Which means a few things... I'm no longer tied to some crazy diet, I no longer idolize my yoga instructors and I don't have- nor am in search for- an external guru. I understand deeply that these things are important to some people. At one point they were extremely important to me. They just happen not to be anymore.
About seven years ago, I moved to New York City for the second time in my life (the first time was a comical and epic fail). I was very excited to do so because I was moving in with two roommates- one whom I had known and trusted since I was 7 years old and a friend of hers who were both attending optometry school in SUNY. They were great roommates and I appreciate them so much now that I look back on our time there (hindsight, hey?). I appreciate them the most for leaving to NY when they did because they offered me the opportunity to move back and have the all the incredible experiences that came from living there. And, shortly after I moved to NY, I met my guru.
I've always been a seeker but at the time I moved to NYC, I was an experience-seeking missile. So, I said no to nothing. So when a friend from Miami told me about her Tibetan Buddhist sangha in NYC, I jumped on the train. Literally. To White Plains to go meet everyone. It was great because I didn't know anyone in New York besides my roommates and they were moving up 2 months after I did so I was literally all alone in the big city. She sent a friend of hers from the sangha to accompany me to White Plains one day and spend an afternoon with everyone. Everyone was in a buzz because the guru was coming to visit in a couple of weeks. Her friend was one of the most gentle and giving persons I have met to this day. I didn't really jive very well with anyone else in the sangha but they were all nice enough people.
So, the guru (H.E. Namka Drimed Rinpoche) came to visit. I was waiting for the clouds to part and for angels to break out into song once he walked in. But... nothing. Not so much as a puff of smoke in the joint when he walked in. He was a regular person. Looking back, I don't know why I expected more. But he was a kind and gentle soul... that I felt immediately. I requested an audience with his assistant for the next time he was to be in town. She said he had granted a private audience with me at his daughter's house for his next visit and that he would initiate me into the Tibetan Buddhist faith. As she put it, I had "come back home."
In the meantime, I was getting to know my sangha. I didn't feel a connection to anyone but Akili and so he was pretty much who I spent most of my time with. But even he seemed to be in a race to do the most prostrations (ngondro) in the quickest amount of time. And they all seemed to be in some kind of peculiar competition to be closest to the guru. They all tried to prove to him and to each other of their depth and spirituality. All those histrionics just weren't for me. However, when the guru came to visit again, I took the train ride out to White Plains to have my private audience with him. When he sat down in front of me he said in Tibetan "Hello, again!"- even though we had never met- and laughed his funny little laugh. I asked him questions about life, about what made a "good Buddhist" and some things about my life specifically. His answers were all insightful but nothing I had not come upon already in my journey through yoga and meditation and nothing I would not have come upon soon enough in the near future. He then initiated me into the Tibetan Buddhist faith and gave me a name- Pema Lhamo. It means Lotus Goddess. His translator relayed the translation: "You are a very strong woman. You are a true goddess. And you resemble a lotus flower because like the lotus, you have the ability to grow beautifully even among the sludge of life." That did touch my heart greatly and so I changed my name. I am Pema to this day.
I gave the sangha a real shot. I tried really getting into the prostrations and the chanting and the group gatherings. I tried seeing more in the guru but I honestly didn't. I even pretended to sometimes. It was kind of like faking an orgasm- very awkward for me but no one else seemed to notice and were satisfied with the response. So, although I kept that one close initial friendship, I walked away from all that stuff that I thought was superfluous to my particular beingness. I understand all paths lead to Truth so I acknowledge and respect what others do but I knew through and through that that was not my path.
Fast forward to last night when my husband and I watched the documentary "Kumare".
I can't tell you how excited I am that someone did this. The jist of the documentary is that a filmmaker from New Jersey named Vikram Ghandi who is of Indian descent tells his story of meeting gurus, saddhus, and saints all over the U.S. and India and not finding any real truth for himself. So, he makes up a guru called Kumare, creates a fake entourage of two followers, leaves to Arizona where no one knows him and starts setting up shop at yoga studios to create a following. His intention was to unveil himself at the end of the film and to drive the point home that the guru is really within. The film is touching and funny and infuriating and so many other things. And I highly recommend it. Kudos to Mr. Ghandi because I think what he did was absolutely brilliant and much needed.
The beautiful thing about the documentary is the simplicity of it. He wanted to share a message: the Truth is inside all of us and we don't have to go outside to find it. How it evolved, though, was really interesting. I think he started with a light heart and with maybe a sarcasm to it- he would make up chants and make people say ridiculous things like "be all that you can be" (as in the United States Army slogan) and other nonsensical things and he made up crazy yoga poses. My favorite was one where you held one arm out and flung the other around it in a big circle which I called "airguitarasana" because well, that is essentially what it was- playing air guitar. It was all pretty hilarious.
That portion of the film reminded me of my life as a yogi. People idolizing, idealizing, worshipping- and sleeping with- their yoga teachers and their yoga teachers loving every minute of it. It highlighted the odd mentality of the yoga lifestyle- the lingo ("I am so in alignment right now"), the diets, the behavior, and the emotions that go with "being a yogi." I faked a couple of yogasms in my time, too. I can totally admit it and laugh at myself that I fell into yoga herd mentality. I became vegetarian,vegan, and raw vegan because I thought I SHOULD; I did crazy detoxes, I may have chanted a few things that I had no idea what they meant and I may have thought at one point that "the whole world needs to do yoga". I felt bad for people who didn't know anything about the chakras or those who couldn't touch their toes. I eventually (and gratefully) moved on. I still do yoga and I still teach but life has carved out a more honest space from whence I practice. The thing is, a lot of people in that community have remained disempowered and continue to have someone laughing all the way to the bank (financially and emotionally) at their expense due to this disempowerment. But again, all paths lead to Truth so it's all good. Like Ram Dass said, "We're all just walking each other home." (Uh, oh... did I just quote Ram Dass. lol.)
As he continued making his documentary, Vikram started really getting into the persona he had created and he got serious with his teachings. While I was watching the progression of the film, I kept thinking how great it was that what he was going to show his "disciples" in the end at the unveiling was something of seriously lasting value: that we are all connected and that people don't have to be a studied and enlightened guru for your to connect instantly and feel love for. It can happen with a regular old Joe- or a Vikram, in this case- from New Jersey. And to experience first hand- and in the way they were going to at the end of that journey- that the guru is truly within is priceless. You can see the Vikram really wanted people to believe in themselves. The beauty of it is that he empowered himself through the process. He took his first steps as Kumare with the intention of being fake and had one two-dimensional purpose. But along the way he found his authenticity, his own empowerment, and a purpose that far surpassed his expected outcome. Such is life.
I am so thrilled that someone was moved enough to by their own lack of belief in what was out there to do something inspired and different and in the process help people find themselves. It was extremely inspiring. And I like that he didn't spend too much time on debunking the gurus because I think that they do fulfill some purpose for those they intend to serve. In the past, I had been disappointed by the behavior of Miami's "spiritual elite." I've seen some yoga teachers who are gurus to some be messy and rude while piss drunk and others treat a waitress so bad she burst into tears. And I've heard plenty of rumors about others treating their partners violently and stealing from their students. And it's still all good. Their actions off the mat are as much teachings as the ones on the mat. And we all make mistakes. Maybe different ones, but mistakes nonetheless.