I have heard that people feel about a guru the way they feel about a mother or father, and the death of their guru can affect them as profoundly as losing a parent.
Having never met Guruji (Sri K Pattabhi Jois), what I know of him is limited to what I’m told. But because parampara, the guru-disciple tradition, is so important in this practice, I have been lucky to study with many teachers who learned directly from him. As I see it, he was a strict, kind, fiercely intelligent man with infectious mannerisms that survive him. “You do,” “Why fearing?” “Bad lady,” all expressions that you’re likely to hear in Ashtanga classes, not as an imitation, but because speech patterns, heard over and over again, get absorbed. I’ve absorbed them too, second-hand, from my teachers. And this practice that he brought to all of us has transformed my life in countless ways (not only the drinking-coffee-and-getting-up-at-stupid-o’clock ways). So despite never meeting him in person, Guruji, his teachings and his legacy, have had a profound effect on my life.
Two years ago today, May 18, 2009, Guruji passed away. At the time, I was already mourning the passing of my mother on March 30, an event that all but dragged me under the surface. I remember thinking “I’m not ready for this to happen, I’m not ready, I’m not ready.” over and over again with no other ability to think. Grief was there in a way that I hadn’t experienced it before, and the way I dealt with it was to seek comfort in my yoga practice. A tad ironic, since the guru of that yoga practice in which I was looking for solace would pass away less than two months later. Which meant that I was once again surrounded by grief, this time that of the yoga teachers I loved and respected. I don’t put all of my stock in astrology, but I do find it interesting that these two events occurred during my Saturn Return, a period which lasts about two and a half years, and is often marked by a period of self-evaluation, change, loss, and re-direction. Just look at what else occurred during this time frame: a move from Chicago to San Francisco, the ending of a long relationship, and the decision to travel to India. Shortly after this period: the actual trip to India, and the move back to Minnesota. These last few years have been rather big.
Because of the timing of all of this, when the subject of Guruji’s passing is brought up, it’s difficult for me to separate it from my mother’s death. But as my teacher told us this morning before the opening chant, the anniversary of the passing on of an enlightened being is an opportunity to pay our respects and honor all of our teachers. And our parents are our first and most important teachers. So I’m grateful that I had as much time with my mom as I did. No one is ever ready to lose a parent or a teacher, whether at the age of 30 or 60, but we practice what they taught us, feel the grief, and hopefully stay afloat.