wander a little / get lost a little
The Place: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
The Story: In Mongolia, you learn that it’s perfectly normal to see a sign hanging above a door that does not lead to where the sign says it would. It’s counterintuitive because we naturally follow signs. But here, you learn very quickly that you shouldn’t feel like a fool if you walk into someone’s home thinking it’s a grocery store, or vice versa. Anyway, my friend Murphy and I decided to check out Ananda Yoga Centre yesterday evening. What we initially found was the sign directly above a door that led to a Korean restaurant. The actual center was around the corner, further down a road under construction, and the fourth blue door on the backside of a residential building. I called again and again, and finally a thin, gray-haired Indian man came down in the traditional garbs of a yogi. As soon as we walked in, this man commented on my friend’s shorts being too short. Murphy was naturally a bit embarrassed but assured the man that he would wear longer pants next time. But wait, that was not enough. The Indian man went into a closet to get him some pants. He said to Murphy: “This is not athletic yoga. It is the practice.” So this was my mindful practice for the next 2 hours in that room.
20 minutes into yoga. When the Indian man was so offended by Murphy’s shorts, I couldn’t help but feel confused and embarrassed. It didn’t make sense to me why the length of his shorts were such a big deal (and if you must know, they were mid thigh). Everyone else in the room expressed their apathy on the subject, but the Indian man was adamant about not seeing Murphy’s legs for some reason. I wondered if the man was so hot and bothered about the shorts because somehow the integrity of the mindful practice of yoga would be jeopardized. To me, it just made more sense to tolerate Murphy’s preference for the length of his shorts, contingent upon the fact that it does not impose on anyone else’s practice, of course. So I realized that even in tolerance, there is a limit. We all want to believe in the idea of tolerance, especially in a social media infiltrated world where the expression “to each his own” has been sensationalized. However, the reality is probably closer to this: to each his own, so long as no one else gets offended or hurt.
35 minutes into yoga. I thought maybe the man was trying to make the point that the length of Murphy’s shorts disrespected his practice. He mentioned that it wasn’t athletic yoga, which I assume he meant the type of new age yoga that kicks your ass with aerobics and pilates incorporated into the hour. He was actually referring to the thousands of years since yoga’s origin in India that made it disrespectful to wear shorts to yoga. But in various adapted forms of yoga, people have different practices. So now what? Well, it seems that respect can sometimes be subjective matter. And if so, we would have to be open minded enough to be respectful in every case – whether it’s business culture (suits and uniforms), ethnic culture (historical norms of different ethnic groups), religious culture, or individual culture (personal life experiences). In all these cases, to be respectful is not just blind admiration for superiority; it means opening yourself up to different ways of seeing and doing things.
1 hour 45 minutes into yoga. Throughout the two hour yoga practice, the instructor only spoke in Mongolian with a few phrases in English. When the instructor came around to correct my posture on a particular asana, she assumed I was Mongolian and directed me in a soft voice to do something with my legs. I had no clue what she was saying and did not know what she wanted me to do. So she repeated it again and again, each time more harsh in tone than the last. This misunderstanding and miscommunication resulted in inaction on my part, and frustration on her part. She was very sweet to me as soon as she realized I was not Mongolian, even though I looked Mongolian enough that she was almost forced to make that judgment. I realized that judgment can play such a huge role in our day-to-day (mis)communication with anyone – friends, family, strangers, co-workers. So I wonder how many people speak the same language but simply do not understand each other. How often do those miscommunications contribute to your frustration with work, friends, your lover or family? Perhaps it is our responsibility to ensure that we always strive to understand and be understood before we make a judgment.