Letter to my Friends and Yoga Students in Florida in the Hours Before Hurricane Irma

My dear ones,

I’m writing to you from my bedroom in Downtown Orlando.

Where are you? I can’t help but wonder.

Here we are. In this moment. And it's that time. To take our yoga off the mat - the best ways we know how. We're in training for this. 

This morning, I took a last run around the heart of our city, Lake Eola, pictured above. This diverse, vibrant city center feels like a welcome home to me.

I’ve seen it transformed from Pulse vigil site to marches for science and women’s rights. I’ve supported hundreds of people practicing yoga here in the park. Had fights and makeups around it’s circle. We all have our Lake Eola stories. I can’t help but wonder how it, and all of us, will be changed soon.

Tonight, as the winds start to blow, and the sun poured gold over desolate downtown streets, my partner, 4 year old and I walked on cracked sidewalk. We sheltered underneath our precious oak trees.

We drew uneven hopscotch marks like ancient runes, appreciating the eerily cool air before we sequester inside. We all felt the charge - and the calm before the storm. For who knows what will be.

Even when the eye of Hurricane Irma was heading our way, we decided to stay and weather the storm. And now it may take a slightly different path. My heart bleeds for all those who may be deeply affected. Hurricane force winds will likely cross us and much of our state. Who knows what may come.

Wherever you are, I am hoping you are safe and sound. And that you and yours stay that way. That we all stay that way.

As you know, part of practicing yoga is having this compassionate wish for all beings. And at the same time knowing there are no guarantees.

“Everything will be fine,” as one spiritual teacher says, “until it isn’t.”

This is the spirit of flexible strength that practicing all of yoga can give us. Not the strength to hurt, or fight. Not just the strength to throw ourselves into diligent practice, or do endless chaturangas, or put our toes behind our ears, but the kind of strength that allows us to persevere. And to love.

Do every action you must do, and then release the fruits of your actions.

This skill in action - the skill of releasing the results - is yoga, according to the approx. 200 BCE early yoga text The Baghavad Gita Ch 2, Verse 48-49

This is the yogic practice of aparigraha - the 5th of the practices known as the Yamas from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Non-attachment in action. You’ve got this.

This is your yoga coming off the mat. Off flashcards, sleek studio walls, wise tea-bag sayings.

This is yoga completely off book.

This is where we are. We’ve done every action. We’ve prepared. Or we haven’t. We decided to stay; we accept and endure. We left; we do the same. We sit comfortably or uncomfortably, with uncertainty. Changing every moment.

This uncertainty has the opportunity to close our worlds in. To create tunnel vision where we see through a narrow lens of anger, fear, reactivity.

This is a natural reaction to a very real, imminent mortal threat we face.

I’ve been here for sure this week as I frantically check, and recheck, the news of Irma’s track. Stricken with the devastation in other places no different than mine.

Under the loss, under the fear of loss, is one thing. Love.

This is the last of the Eightfold path of yoga. Samadhi. Oneness.

And yes, my dear students, we are skipping ahead.

Way ahead. We don’t usually get to jump right to the end of the Eight fold path. Sometimes shared mortal danger super-charges our way there.

This imminent fear can show us what we value. What we care about. What we live for.

The realization that under fear, under loss and grief and terror, is actually love, is the bliss of complete oneness that yoga offers us. This kind of oneness is possible when we love so deeply. We can practice connecting to this love. And acting from this place.

This kind of realization doesn’t necessarily make the terror, worry or fear or sadness go away. Those feelings aren’t wrong.

We aren’t less awesome or holy or whatever because we are scared shitless.

This isn’t about spiritual bypassing or fake pretending we are going to “light and love” Irma or the devastation away. This is when it gets real.

Yoga makes space for all of it. Both the heartrendingly appalling and unspeakably heart opening at the same time. Our hearts of compassion can expand to hold even more than we believed we could before.

This is the core of our yoga. This is what is before us now. Remembering and practicing the love within the fear within the love.

I know you are a diligent student. My wish is that through our practice in this trying time, our hearts ultimately expand from this experience rather than contract.

That each breath we take - and, oh, yes, my dear yogis, reviving our slow, deep breaths whenever we can! - become wings expanding the heart of our love ever outwards.

I wish that you are safe, well and free from suffering.

See you on Irma’s flip side, heart open, hands ready to help.

Yours in the practice,

Susanna

Susanna Barkataki is Founder & Director of Education at Ignite | Yoga and Wellness Institute www.Ignitebewell.com | @ignitebewell

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