I walked into my dark, quiet studio … the morning light had yet to creep through the windows. While my eyes were adjusting, I squatted-down to place my blanket and cushion in front of my altar. Then, I stood up and walked across the cool floor to retrieve my practice shawl, a lime green, airy shawl that Swamiji gave me four Christmases ago, when I was visiting India and studying at his ashram. I also grabbed my wooden mala.
… For those who aren’t familiar with it, a mala is a string of beads that is used to count prayer repetitions. Traditionally, there are 108 beads …
I wrapped the shawl over my shoulders, draped the mala around my neck, and then made my way back to the altar. I leaned forward to light the candle, and to flip the hourglass, and then stepped-back to join my palms together and bow. I turned and gave one last bow to my cushion, and then took a seat.
After a few moments of wiggling, fidgeting, and wrapping myself in a blanket, much like an animal trying to prepare its bed, I transitioned to the practice of japa.
… Japa is the repetition of a mantra, and a mantra is a sound, a word or a group of words that is also repeated … repetition upon repetition … bead after bead …
Not unlike every other morning, I drew my right hand to my mala, wrapped my fingers around the smooth, tulsi wood beads, and lifted it up over my head. It was at that moment that I heard a gentle and certain “pop” … the golden-yellow cord holding the beads together had finally let go.
When I first looked down at the mala, no longer a circle, now a string, I had a moment of resistance … maybe I could still use it? I closed my eyes, positioned my fingers on the beads and repeated my mantra, only to have one of the beads slip from between my fingers as I attempted moving to the next in line. I sighed and paused, and, almost as suddenly as the mala had broken, a wave of memories began to wash over me …
I could remember the woman who gave me the mala 5 years ago, a passionate yogini who owned a studio called Jewel in the Lotus. Jewel was my first yoga home, and where I taught my very first class. I considered the number of times my fingers had passed over the beads, slightly squeezing each one as I repeated my mantra. It was as if I could still feel the beads still across the back of my neck.
The mala I was holding had faithfully accompanied me through each and every one of my daily sitting practices, for the last 1500 days. It had helped me to maintain mental focus … it had become a companion and friend. This realization fueled a rush of sadness, tenderness and awe that began to flood my body. The cord had let go. It was time for me to let go as well. Any aversion I was feeling towards the situation was replaced by joy and overwhelming appreciation as I gently laid the string of beads on my altar. It was the mala’s final lesson for me … the profound experience of accepting what had happened without desiring a different outcome.
May we fully receive the teachings when they’re offered, so we can grow the lives we love.
Happy New Year!