At the first yoga center that I owned we sold shirts with the phrase ‘There is no I in Yoga” on the front and a picture of Hanuman, the god of service, on the back. Hanuman represents ultimate devotion, surrender, and service and he is the hero of one of the great epics of Hindu literature the Ramayana. I liked Hanuman from the first day I walked into Jivamukti Yoga Center in 1995. His image was everywhere.
I made the shirt for fun but love the concept. When I started doing yoga I thought that if I could only put my feet behind my head I would be a good person. Then they were there and I was still the same cranky guy. I was still me. Then I had this realization that if there is no I in yoga then there must also be every I in yoga.
One of my favorite refrains to share with students any time a yoga class is crowded is, “Don’t hesitate to touch your neighbor because we are all one in yoga.” Which is what I believe—we are basically one big ball of energy differentiated by these weird things called bodies and these awful things called egos. There you have my yoga for dummies explanation in a nutshell.
One of my favorite books when I started doing yoga was I Am That, by Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj. It is a massive five hundred page book of interviews where the guru says the same thing over and over again. “I get it and you don’t!” Westerners come to him and say “Guruji explain the meaning of life to us”. And he would say, “You are stuck in your ‘I’ self and I am not. Maybe someday you won’t be stuck there but until that day, I get it and you don’t” Of course I am paraphrasing but that really was my take on the book.
In that context, I know who I am. I am deeply rooted in the “I” self, trying to live a life of service and humility but finding it very hard indeed. And in the last seven years I have added two children to the mix who I must show the way and guide them through the mine field of the illusion that is life.
I didn’t arrive as a Hindu, or a yogi; I am an American Jew born of a disbelieving father and a believing mother who lost much of her extended family to the holocaust and her own father and brother within six months of each other to a car accident and heart attack. That stew left me much confused along with another great contradiction my parents saddled me with “You are brilliant/ don’t be conceited.” What is a boy to do?
My adolescence was grounded on a belief in nothing (nihilism is bliss) and I came of age and began to believe in everything. Long before I made my way to yoga I used to parrot the phrase, “It’s all relative.” I still believe this. We get to pick and choose our belief systems in any way we want. Most people don’t get this and stick with the first belief system they were introduced to without exploring other possibilities.
Having children brings this into stark relief. Who do you allow your children to become? Do you let them become people by themselves, or by telling them who you want them to be? I’m always trying to figure this out. Who am I? What is I? I don’t know but I am happy to swim in the waters of possible discovery.
I hope I allow my children to swim in those same waters. On many days, I walk into my house to hear my smiling son call out to me, “I hate you Daddy.” “I love you Reggie” “I hate you Daddy.” “Thanks Reggie, that means you love me.” “No, I hate you Daddy.” “I know Reg, but that also means you love me. Life is opposite day.”