I have just completed my first 200-hour yoga teacher training course, which means I can tick off my one and only concrete ‘resolution’ for 2015 and possibly one of my proudest achievements to date. To have come to this point on my yoga journey so fast and with so much passion, dedication and love is an overwhelmingly rewarding feeling. I am fully embarking on a path which I know from the depths of my heart is right and which will continue to heal me, teach me and nourish me for as long as I live.
Not only has this month-long intensive training enriched my own practice with knowledge shared by an array of inspiring teachers, with ancient wisdom garnered from our yogi forefathers, and with hands-on practice, both alone and with others, it also qualifies me to share this incredible practice (and way of life) with others. What an honour that will be, and I hope I will always walk this yogi path – as a teacher and a student – with the same measure of humility and gratitude that I feel now.
It has been an intense journey to say the least – a lot to learn in a short time and with a schedule that has left little time for rest and reflection (much needed when the inevitable physical, mental and emotional side-effects from twelve hours of yoga practice and study a day take their toll). Even more amazing though, is that despite all I’ve learnt on my mat, from my teachers, and from those many wise saints and sages who passed on the secrets of yoga’s life-enriching gifts via the ancient texts, nothing compares with what the Universe teaches me every day through direct experience. The lessons of yoga continue to play out in my ‘real life’, so obviously and theatrically so that I have to laugh sometimes at the ludicrous simplicity of it all. When I pay attention to what is going on the lessons become alarmingly clear, and when I least expect it I am presented with new challenges – new tests to my resilience, faith and desire to grow.
Lesson number one, and it’s by no means a new one: Live fully in the present – you never know what the future will hold.
I couldn’t have learnt this better than from my great friend Damià, who to my immense sadness I discovered last weekend fell from his motorbike a few days prior while road-tripping around Cuba and died. With one hand forking papaya into my mouth and the other scrolling through my Facebook messages (not very mindful I know), I came face-to-face with this devastating news. I stopped chewing and sat dumbfounded looking at my iPhone screen; I couldn’t’ believe it. Death has a way of doing that to us, doesn’t it? It stops us in our tracks, takes the wind out of our lungs and drowns out all external noises so all we’re aware of is the heavy pounding of our heart, the blood rushing through our body and a lump rising in our throat. I didn’t know whether to gasp, wail or cry. In fact the shock of it stunned me to silence.
Damià didn’t need to die though to teach me what he did in life. Although we knew each other for less than a year our connection was powerful. Within a few minutes of meeting I knew I’d found a soul mate. We were in Koh Phangan, Thailand, I with my best friend and he with his. We partied in spectacular fashion – playing music, dancing and singing while his huge grin, animated body language, raucous laugh and numerous entertaining stories of adventures gone-by kept us entertained until the sun rose the next morning.
I don’t think I’ve ever met someone so in love with life as Damià, and it was infectious. He mirrored the wandering free spirit that resides in me and I wanted to share my stories too. To my surprise he was an attentive listener, as happy to hear others’ tales as he was to share his own. I talked candidly for the first time about my spiritual journey in India, which had transpired un-expectantly just a few weeks before (leaving me delighted yet rather unnerved given my lack of preparation and previous atheist beliefs!) He listened with intrigue and not-so-cleverly-disguised amusement at my seriousness about it all, assuring me I was normal and everything was perfectly ok. I felt completely at ease in his company – luminescent even – as he looked deep in my eyes, heard and accepted my every word. He talked at length about his parents whom he portrayed as his best friends and I could tell he hugely admired. I discovered that his mother was very spiritual, while father more practical, and I began to understand how he’d come to develop such a grounded and mature yet adventurous and courageous zest for life. It felt like we’d been friends forever.
After going our separate ways, a month later my friend and I were reunited with Damià in the north of Thailand, a time I will treasure in my heart forever. With Gina on the back of Damià’s bike and me following carefully behind, we adventured to waterfalls and hot springs, got caught in the rain, danced the night away and laughed, a lot. Then, as ‘fate’ had it, at the end of last summer Damià and I ended up going to Burning Man together – another life-defining experience that I’m now even more grateful to have shared with him.
Aside from Damià’s relentless optimism and enthusiasm for all that life has to offer, what I loved and admired most about him was how he challenged me. While often complimenting my beauty, intelligence and intuition, he was also not afraid to (gently) point out my weaknesses. He taught me so much about myself in such a short time, both by holding a mirror up to my own ego, and through example.
And so, while I am shocked and deeply saddened by the news of his passing, I know that Damià lived just the kind of life he wanted, a life akin to which I often ‘preach’ about on this blog. He was fearless and brave, he embraced every moment, and he had no regrets. A true free spirit, adventurer, explorer, and rebel, with a spring in his step and a smile on his face, Damià inspired and elevated countless other souls he met along his path. Life to him was an adventure, a game, and a lesson. He was an eternal student of life, finding the blessing in every experience no matter how challenging, seeing every hurdle along his path as an opportunity to grow. Not once did I hear him complain. Even while hooked to a drip for over a week, alone in a Thai hospital with a bad case of dengue fever, his upbeat messages via Facebook raised my spirits while I too was immobile and alone in Cambodia with a broken foot. We discussed the incredible lessons that life was teaching us and our dreams for the future.
Damià died the way he lived – bravely, passionately and fast. And while I will always miss him and am devastated for his family, perhaps he served his purpose. Perhaps the yoga scriptures of eons ago are right: death is a part of life (in fact it’s the only thing guaranteed in life) and we never know when our time will come. We can’t possibly understand the bigger plan and furthermore, we can do little to nothing to control that.
So, rather than shy away in fear or recoil in despair by this news, I will endeavour always to be inspired by Damià’s courageous and empowering attitude. Whenever I feel self-pity, whenever I let a rainy day get me down, or when I make myself a victim of my own mind or circumstances, I will hear his excited voice inside and remember his infectious bubbling energy. Damià said YES to life and showed me just how abundant, exciting and beautiful it is when you choose to see it that way.
Thank you Damià, my dear friend, my partner in crime and fellow student of life. I am forever grateful for the times we spent together, for all you taught me and all you will continue to inspire in me. Keep on shining bright, wherever you are.