Jessica Magnin

“It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew, and in that there is joy.” Krishnamurti

Everything has its place in time and in space and rules are no exception. Rules and codes of conduct keep us from falling into a state of anarchy, of total chaos. But then again, aren’t rules fabricated from the mind and perhaps rooted in fear? As much as we need rules and guidelines to live an orderly life, we might question, within reason, their potential of limiting our connection and heartfelt experience with others.

Here, in sleepy Luang Prabang a list of rules is publically displayed and posted around town. These rules are meant to be taken seriously and by all means, respected. With over 350 novices and monks living between the confines of the old town, one naturally abides by these guidelines but then, I suppose that depends upon the interpreter.

The second gong rings at 5h30 signalling the commencement of saibat, the giving of alms. In the faint darkness of the early morning, a thread of burnt orange robed novices, monks and abbots form what appears to be an endless stream of barefooted bodies with metal urns dangling from a woven strap resting on their bare shoulder.

I arrive at my habitual place, bow before my two elder Lao friends, take seat on a bamboo woven stool no more than 20 centimetres from the earth, place my flip flops neatly behind me, and tuck my sin, traditional Lao skirt, under my knees assuring that my legs are fully covered. A white “pha bien,’’or scarf, drapes over my left shoulder as I secure my hair neatly into a bun.

Behind me, the thick wall of Wat Sene separates me from 20 or so novices and monks making their final adjustments to their robes before stepping outside the confines of their monastery.  A wicker basket of freshly steamed “khao niow”, sticky rice, sits on my lap and I raise it to my forehead, bow in silence and bless these offerings with goodness and love. My dear Lao friends sit next to me. We exchange only a knowing smile of the eyes, nothing more. We allow the stillness of the early morning to bathe the present moment with sacredness.

The procession begins with a monastery’s dog or two guiding the way. Bare feet and bare heads gracefully pass at just arms reach, briefly pausing before me as I place a blessed clump of sticky rice into their urn careful not to make any physical contact, not even with their urn. One’s gaze should be soft, turned downward in humbleness and respect. These are the unspoken rules of conduct while offering.

Day after day, 94 in total, trip after trip, totally 6, rainy season or not, 3 to be exact, I am here with the same presence, the same intention and the same ritual of respect. But over time, things do shift and this is what is promised even by the teachings of Buddha himself. With habit and the passing of days, things do change, even the borders of set guidelines and rules.

The change began with the reception of an occasional yet discrete meet of the eyes, a faint humble smile, a whispered ‘’sabaidee’’ or “hello’’, a ‘’kop jai lai2”, a wrapped cookie, and even a brim-to-brim smile. Here, at this precise moment, beyond the rules of conduct, beyond what we call jit, or the mind, jai, the heart meets that of another and all differences, prejudices, conflicts, insecurities, superiority and even imposed rules drop, exposing one single thing, the art of being human and limitless potential of the heart.

“To be free of all authority, of your own and that of another, is to die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigour and passion. It is only in that state that one learns and observes. And for this, a great deal of awareness is required, actual awareness of what is going on inside yourself, without correcting it or telling it what it should or should not be, because the moment you correct it you have established another authority, a censor.” Krishnamurti

Rules are necessary but they can harden us. We know this yet their implementation keeps us in tact. The mind is full of ideas about right and wrong, good and bad and packaged solutions to keep things from oscillating too far. Because the mind gravitates toward set boundaries, we create more. It is our mind’s way of making sense of the unpredictability of life and keeping chaos and fear at bay. Yet, our hearts yearn for more sacred moments of expression and connection and the humbleness of being human. Incapable of truly experiencing this humanness, the mind, limited in its limitlessness can only just begin to conceptualise what this softness might look like, feel like and be like. So within the confinements of suggested guidelines and rules of conduct, remember your heart. It is within the walls of the heart that love can be felt and expressed beyond measure.

Wherever I go, there I am

Until you’ve found pain, you won’t reach the cure
Until you’ve given up life, you won’t unite with
the supreme soul
Until you’ve found fire inside yourself, like the Friend,
You won’t reach the spring of life.


The present momentSometimes we just don’t want to be pegged down to where we are because where we are is just too raw to be. Therefore, we conveniently come up with some erudite emergency exits in hopes of withdrawing from the here and transporting ourselves to a there that is void of discomfort and fear. We might believe that we can trick the mind and others into believing that just because our physical body is present that our being is too. The humble truth is, as John Kabbat Zinn coined, ’wherever you go, there you are.’’ You can’t ever really hide from the here. We might be able to numb ourselves through substances, or by holding our breath or even by the power of the mind, but we tend to ignore the simple equation, what goes up must come down, and it is the down that gnaws at us today and tomorrow. We might ask ourselves what would happen if we seized the here and the where we are and accepted the humble truth that, regardless of our deliberate efforts to eclipse the rawness of now, we end up back at square one, life. John Lennon said, ‘’Life is what happens while you’re making other plans’’. Life is perfectly full exactly the way it is, offering us a multitude of experiences to experience. These experiences are in themselves an invitation to live life fully and to learn. Someone caught on and anonymously left this quote behind,  ‘’experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first, and the lesson afterward.’’ And, if I might dare to add, these experiences are the sum total of who we are.

It is Christmas Day. The chalet is steeped in stillness. I unroll my mat in front of the wall heater allowing my breath and its flow to capture my awareness. It is simply delicious as will be my warm millet porridge topped with cinnamon, ginger and a dollop of Manuka honey straight from my friend’s New Zealand farm. Outside, the sky is painted a crystal blue outlining the jagged white-capped Alps. The sun projects its sheen onto a blanket of immaculate powder, fresh from the night before. It is a perfect day. I fasten my boots, secure my helmet and cautiously parallel down the slope just behind my husband and friends. It is my first run in 2 years so I am take it slowly yet I marvel at the body’s ability to remember how to shift its’ weight from right to left while carving infinite S’s into the whiteness below. Like riding a bike, it never forgets.

Third run, I pick up confidence and thus, speed. The brisk wind is whips against my cheeks, tearing my eyes. Suddenly, my skis catch an edge on a hidden patch of ice. They clumsily form an X imprisoning my right pole at their intersection. I feel a jarring in my right arm. I am flying into mid air. I try to catch my breath and wait for solid ground to secure my body. Time seems to slow remarkably down, almost to a stand still until I hit hard, head, right shoulder, face and head again before stillness sets in and a paralysing pain in my shoulder. I feel the hardness of the snow below me supporting my body, a chill down my spine, the sun’s rays peeking through the treetops, the swishing of skis against the snow and a faint voice calling, ‘’are you hurt?’’ My mind registers and I decide that it is too painful to stay here. My mind takes me to just minutes before. Tears fall. ‘’Why did you go so fast? You should have taken it slowly. How will you practice and teach yoga? Will an operation be the only solution? How am I going to manage during this 16- day holiday?’’ So much thought, no more body, no more guidance.

Suddenly my mind goes dead, calm enough to catch my breath and let it take over. Slow deep symmetric breaths pull my awareness back into my body, into the pain. Intuition, my precious companion speaks to me, ‘’you are exactly where you should be, nowhere else. This is it, be grateful.’’ At this precise moment, the NOW seeps in, swishing of skis racing past, faint words of kindness, pain shoots though my dislocated shoulder, the chill of the wind cause shivers down my spine, biting coldness against my bare skin exposed to the snow, tears falling, nausea, fingers tremble. Now, a total surrender to where I am. I breathe into my shoulder, into the pain making it larger than me, larger than this moment. I take it all in, every bit of it and allowing myself to become this pain, to feel it on every dimension with my six senses and then beyond. Time is transforming into something intangible, yet familiar. The pain is too. I move into its depths, infinitely expanding past the borders of my skin, my shoulder, past my body. Light fills my body. The pain is dissolving into something manageable.

A feeling of infinite gratitude and trust is overwhelming me and I know that this is the experience and the lessons will follow in step. I don’t want to be anywhere else and therefore, here I am, humbly human. Pema Chodron shares, Its also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, thats sitting right here right now with its aches and it pleasures is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.

I am bundled in a thick wool blanket. I feel each bump as I descend the mountain on my back. The lights of the ER room blur my vision. ‘’No, no thank you.’’ I hear myself refusing the morphine. A handful of x-rays, ‘’it doesn’t look good…surgery will most likely be necessary.’’ I breathe deeply. The nurse and doctor secure my arm to my chest via a complex contraption that only a rocket scientist could understand.

Back in chalet, I am propped up against a half dozen pillows. Tears fall down my cheeks but I feel calm. Intuition sets in and guides my left hand to my inner right shoulder and beneath the collarbone. I press deeply into the fascia while directing a conscious steady flow of breath into the touch. Golden light follows. I hear the maha mrityunjaya mantra coming from the corners of the universe and penetrating my shoulder, my body and my soul.

The early morning sun timidly shines though the crack between the thick felt curtains. The night was long and yet short. More breath, more pressure, more golden light, more mantra, more freedom in my fingers, now my wrist, now my forearm. Trigger points in my shoulder blade from my mountain angel friend, then Rheiki from another angel friend. Today, day 2, I ditch the complicated contraption and allow my arm to relax where it can. More ritual. Today, day 3, I want to go home.

I am home where stillness prevails and my heart sings with joy. Day 5, a modified adho mukha svanasana calls me to my mat and I then fill to the brim, 12 bags of stuff to give away. Day 6, more ritual, more yoga, more bags. Today, day 14, more ritual, more asana, more silence, more letting go and a total of 72 jumbo trash bags of unwanted stuff to let go of. There is joy and more as the lessons pour in. I feel a strong connection with the inherent power of healing that is harbored within me and within each and every one of us. My teacher, Rod Stryker’s words chime through the chambers of my mind,‘’We know the internal fire is alive when we begin to see the beauty that pervades life itself under any and all circumstances.’’

Ekhart shares an ancient Chinese proverb along his prolific commentary, “One should not miss the flavor of being sick, nor miss the experience of being destitute”. Not an inspiring saying, perhaps, at first sight, but actually quite profound. To miss an experience means resisting, complaining, huffing and puffing (which is futile, since it is what it is already). The alternative? Choose to ‘be the space’ for whatever experience Life (the present moment) gives you. Allow the Now to be as it is. Then there is a depth to who you are and inner peace. And right action arising out of that.