The quest for the firebird

The quest for the firebird

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

This is the title of the song I’m listening to, by Van Morrison, as I’m looking at a row of sleeping feet lined up in front of me. I wish I had a blanket and longer than an hour of sleep. I’m tempted to join the rest of the tired travellers waiting for their next flight. However, I will remain awake, as I’m boarding in one hour on my way to Delhi from Dubai. I can’t believe it’s finally here, although I don’t think it’s fully registered yet that this is my new reality and next adventure!

Waiting to take off I’m very excited and I’m thinking about what the ashram will be like, what kind of people I will meet and what kind of yoga teacher I might be; so many thoughts running through my mind. I’m so happy to have left the chaos and stress of my current job and finally be free to pursue something that I really want to do – become a yoga teacher. This is a story about my own personal quest for the firebird.

The Wisdom of Yoga

Stephen Cope tells a beautiful story in The Wisdom of Yoga about Jake; a character who I have found many similarities to myself. Jake was a very successful lawyer and a confident well-spoken and tenacious character. “Yet underneath his sleek exterior he was suffering. It was his suffering that had brought him to the deeper practices of yoga. He derived no true satisfaction from his accomplishments…Imagine a bird hunter on the loose in a magnificent rainforest, searching for the mythical Yellow-Crested Firebird. The hunter is relentless in his search for this bird, a mythic bird that, unfortunately, exists only in pictures, and in our own supercharged imaginations. In Jake’s story, in the desperation of his search, he ignores the magnificence of the real birds all around him – the real vegetation, the real mysteries of the rainforest. “

Noticing patterns

Looking back throughout my own life and especially in more recent history I am beginning to realize some patterns in my behaviour. I have tended to move around a lot. My family immigrated to Canada from Ireland in 1986. I was eleven at the time and possibly this could have started my desire to keep mobile as I have lived in six different cities that span the width of Canada over the last ten years. Within each city I have moved approximately once each year. It would be rare to find an apartment that I really liked and I kept looking for another place where I would have better neighbours or it would be quieter or I wanted to find an apartment where the rent would be less expensive. When I found a new place to live I would think it’s perfect, however something would always come up that would irritate me and I would feel compelled to find another dwelling.

Moving around between cities also led to switching jobs frequently. I feel that where I have been the most restless is in my professional life. I have been working in information technology for nine years now. When I started out as a computer programmer I was excited and had long-term goals of becoming a project manager within five to seven years. Every year or two, or sometimes within six months, I would feel I had accomplished everything I needed to in a particular role and was seeking the next best thing; a higher paying job with more responsibility and new learning opportunities. What came with this typically was longer working hours and elevated levels of stress.

The breaking point

This all came to a peak over the past year when I hit my breaking point this summer. I found myself working eighty to ninety hour weeks, having no social time and really missing my family and friends, who were actually living in the same city as me this time. Welcome to the world of project management! I had finally achieved what I had set out to do back in the year 2000 when I graduated from a fast-track computer school because I couldn’t wait to start working and contributing to society. I am coming to realize that I have been very focused on achieving and striving to do really well at work as I was thinking that would define me as a human being. I was proud to be the sole female in a male dominated workforce who was responsible for teams of up to twenty people – I had a real sense of accomplishment.

I was defining myself by my job but knew deep down that there was much more to me than just that.

In Chapter Two, Yoga Sutras 7 and 8, Patanjali discusses two particular obstacles to enlightenment; attachment and aversion. These obstacles are described as some of the causes of man’s sufferings. “Attachment is that which dwells upon pleasure and Aversion is that which dwells upon pain.” He describes these as “the two poles of craving which keep us swinging on the pendulum of happiness and unhappiness. “

I was searching for a continuous high of receiving praise for accomplishing more and more throughout my career by working harder, making more money, receiving better benefits etc. Yet I was continuously disappointed when I reached where I had planned to be and found myself with repetitive thoughts of ‘is this it?’ and ‘what’s next?’

What’s next?

A few months ago I was starting to envision what my next steps would be in my professional life. Logically, to continue on my achievement path and to keep moving up in the corporate world I could be working in an executive level position in the company after putting in a few more years of hard work. I liked the idea of settling in London, Ontario for a while, since my family was close by. However I was struggling imagining myself in an executive position while being a happy person at the same time.

Why was I doing this? I had become extremely anxious this past summer and quite aggressive towards the people I love. I didn’t like the person I was or how I was behaving. I relate this to Stephen Cope’s concept of the ideal ego; my own set of internal representations or unrealistic ideas about who I had become or who I thought I was supposed to be. I was ignoring any real inquiry into the true nature of my being.

I was living in a state of avidya and I was not happy. In Power, Freedom and Grace, Deepak Chopra presents the idea that happiness is a state of consciousness that already exists but it’s often covered up by all kinds of distractions. He continues by saying that happiness for a reason, for example by getting that next promotion, is another form of misery because the reason can be taken away at any time.

Comparing myself to Jake; while I have been doing asana and pranayama aspects of yoga for ten years, my own personal suffering has brought me to this point in my life and I am grateful to have this opportunity to explore the deeper practices of yoga. I do still have a desire to achieve, but for different reasons. I have a goal of becoming a yoga teacher which is what brought me to India initially.

Some people questioned why I wanted to leave such a great paying job and venture out on my own yet again with a somewhat uncertain future. However as I was planning this trip I knew deep down it was the right thing to do and I felt no hesitation.

This brings me back to the present moment – a point in time that I have been learning is so important to appreciate. I have learned so much about myself in the past three weeks in the yoga teacher training course and I look forward to chipping away at the ice block and learning much more as time goes on.

While my quest is not over, I am no longer looking for the elusive firebird. It’s too late to worry about all of the wonderful things I may have missed while on my previous path of achievement. What is important now is to continuously remind myself to slow down, to look within and appreciate what is around me, right here, right now. My inner Guru has woken up, I have a number of Methods to take away with me and I have had the privilege of learning from some truly amazing Teachers.

I’m sharing this story on my ten year anniversary of teaching yoga. I first stepped out of my comfort zone in 2008 and decided to create a different life for myself – one that wasn’t based on other peoples expectations of me. As I’m writing my second book ‘Guided by Love’, I am revisiting these themes and reflecting upon the role that spirituality has played in my life.