One of my favorite teaching stories was told by a devotee of Ramana Maharshi, a man named Annamalai Swami. Ramana, also known as the “Sage of Arunachala” was widely considered one of the most spiritually evolved gurus in India until his death in the 1950’s. His presence, or “darshan” was sought after by many thousands over his lifetime. They even say that Gandhi was eager to meet him, but his aides prevented the meeting from ever happening because they were afraid that Gandhi might enter such a state of exalted spirituality after the meeting that he would not return to complete the important political tasks that were his destiny to fulfill.
Annamalai Swami met Ramana when he was very young and spent decades by his side. He helped build many of the structures that came to form the main temples and dining hall of the ashram, and received direct spiritual guidance from Ramana on a daily basis.
And yet, one day, when he walked into the meditation hall where Ramana was seated, Ramana covered his face with a towel and refused to talk to him. For several consecutive days this same scene repeated. Out of the blue, Ramana stopped teaching his student. In fact, he kicked him out of the ashram. He finally told him, “What you had to give, you have given. What I had to give I have given. Why are you still coming to me?”
He knew that in order to bring his student to full self realization, he had to take the guru away. Annamalai Swami continued to live very close to the ashram but never returned, even when his beloved guru was on his deathbed. He took fully to heart the invitation to find the guru within. He attained a very high state of realization in his old age; over time he himself became a teacher to many students.
Today, I was on my mat with one of my beloved teachers, Kym Brigman Klein. She knows me pretty well and keeps an eye on my practice, always inviting me to step a little deeper into the unknown. We were all moving into forearm stands this morning, and while I love an inversion as much as anyone, I always do them…shhhh… close to the wall.
I just like knowing that the wall is there to catch me.
But I have become so reliant on knowing that the wall is there that I never even try to get away from it. I pull my mat way up to the wall every class.
Kym called me out on it today, I mean just laid it out there. She pulled into dolphin on her own mat and then showed us how she moved with grace into forearm stand without using momentum and without… using the wall.
There was something about the grace, the language of her body as she showed us the sequence. It was soft and confident, stable and fluid. When she came down, she looked me right in the eye and passed the invitation to me.
So I backed off the wall. Knowing that there was no wall to catch me, I summoned all of my own strength and grace and behold, I rose up into a sweet inversion.
When is the last time you backed off a wall? How often do we lean on something for so long that we forget that we have our own walls within?
As I lowered down into child’s pose, I felt a rush of fluttering joy. That’s just the way the universe works, isn’t it? We think that freedom comes from no walls, but in reality there are amazing waterfalls of freedom to be found when we have built the right channels within.
Today I was reminded that I don’t need the wall to keep me from falling….because guess what? I’ve got a big strong one right inside. Most of us in this day and age will never get to spend decades studying at the side of a guru, a guru who will send us away to finish our realization on our own when the time is ripe.
But we all have many teachers around us, people who encourage us to step away from the wall and feel how strong we really are.