Let me tell you a story of love.
For a few months now I’ve been living as a resident at the yoga centre I go to. I still work, I pay rent, but then I spend my free time at the centre helping out; teaching, cooking, sitting on reception, whatever needs doing.
Being here all the time not only allows me to practise my sadhana at a deeper and more consistant level, but it also allows me to connect with the students that come here much better than I was during the ninety minutes I saw them when I was here teaching before.
One such student is an Indian chap called Mohandas. (Not his real name. Mahatma Gandhi’s real name, in fact.)
Mohandas is a lovely man. Very quiet, very calm, always eager to talk to you, to make a connection. He is in his seventies or eighties (I’m guessing), comes quite a distance to visit the centre, and probably enjoys the company as much as anything else. But you know what, I doubt he’s much different than the rest of us in that respect.
I had only ever seen Mohandas in reception – we would chat a little about his family, I would encourage him to come to yoga and satsang – but I never saw him in a class or got to teach him at all. Then one day I went in to do a class and there he was.
The way things worked out I found myself lying next to him. We had to move his mat to get it in line with everybody else’s, and that was when I discovered how frail Mohandas actually was. I had to help him stand up to move his mat. It made me wonder how he would fair during the class, which was an avergae, drop-in, intermediate class.
Class began as always with chanting. As we got ourselves ready Mohandas struggled to get himself upright. Then when he tried sitting on a single low cushion he couldn’t keep himself where he was, and kept rolling backwards towards the mat. I went and got him a thicker, higher cushion, and the teacher and I helped him onto it. He seemed ok, the chanting began, but as it continued I saw Mohandas roll slowly backwards, until he was lying flat on his mat but with this thick cushion under the small of his back.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to do. We have always been taught not to disturb the chanting. But then Mohandas looked up at me with pleading eyes, and said very quietly, “It hurts.”
I was compelled. The outpouring of love I felt for this man was unbelieveable. I saw myself in him, and him in me. There was no separation.
I immediately helped him up, the teacher came and held him while I removed the cushion, then I went and got a chair from outside for him to sit on. We helped him into it, made sure he was comfortable, and then we continued with the class as normal.
All the time Mohandas was apologetic, sorry for all the fuss, and never once did it occur to me that it was a problem. This sweet man needed my help, and I helped him in the same way I hope someone would help me if I was ever in need of it.
To be honest I was far more annoyed with the girl who, as I was in the middle of helping this man, asked me to remove his mobile phone that he had brought into class with him. There I was, chair in hand, this poor man in need of a seat, and she interrupts with her request. I was amazed. I simply told her, “One thing at a time,” got Mohandas settled in his seat, then popped his valuables into a locker for him and gave him the key.
Mohandas did the breathing exercises in the chair, proceeded valiantly through the sun salutations and asanas, enjoyed a well deserved final relaxation, and finished the class back in his chair for the Om Tryambakam.
At the end of the class I helped Mohandas get his things, we talked about the gentle classes we have available at the centre, he apologised once again, once again I told him (completely honestly) that it was not a problem, and he went home.
I wanted to share that story with you because such a feeling of loving compassion is not one I have often felt. Only once or twice in my life have my own thoughts and feelings been so completely with another person, identifying with them in such a way that, in helping them, I am also helping myself. It was a unique moment for me, a profoundly spiritual moment, and one that I will remember always.
And if you’re wondering about the title, the word Maitri means Generous Compassion. ~“Maitri is like a mother’s tender love, but expressed toward all living beings, not just for one’s own biological child.”~
“The simplest acts of kindness,” said Mahatma Gandhi, “are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”