The Hermit’s Life For Me

 

Hermit hike

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you and do not worry that life is turning you upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come? Rumi

 

After 18 years of service, I am retiring this fall.

I’ve been trying to think of this as the naturally occurring third ashrama or stage of life (usually between ages 48 and 72) referred to in India as Vanaprasta, or the Hermit Stage.

The Vanaprasta Ashrama follows the Grihastha Ashrama or Householder stage where devotion to one’s family has taken precedence. The Vanaprasta or Hermit Elder is encouraged to lead a life of contemplation, meditation and prayer alone or with their spouse, often removed from other family members. It is a time to evaluate and reflect on life and to discover who one truly is and what life is all about without the distractions of a busy life.

Although Vanaprastas are typically encouraged to move to a modest hut in the forest, that would only appeal to me for a couple of weeks. I will compromise with long hikes in the woods, returning afterwards to my comfy bed and warm cozy home in town.

After a life spent almost entirely as an extrovert, I have some serious concerns about this new quiet life of contemplation. However, I have studied the introverts that have enriched my life, and I think I can embrace at least some of the lifestyle choices usually associated with them: staying home and hanging out in PJs; having uninterrupted time to read and write; saying “no” to meetings and other unnecessary social events; and saying “yes” to making soup and growing a garden.

 

For so long I have identified myself by my work that I am curious about this opportunity to examine who I am when I am not doing what I’ve done for all these years. As a child I played “teacher” and “mother,” enlisting my siblings and cousins to be my students and kids. As a young adult I spent ten frustrating years longing for this job before finally realizing my dream. Although my yoga practice taught me long ago, on an intellectual level, that I am more than what I do, I don’t think I ever really wanted to feel myself as separate from the job I eventually stepped into almost two decades ago.

This September, when Cody and Devin are in college, I will rise early, not to make breakfast and pack lunches as I have for so long, but to meditate and do my yoga practice in a quiet house. Instead of doing loads of laundry, I’ll read a book for more than ten minutes at a time, or write the stories that have been yearning to get onto a page. I’ll plan my day around a hike with Rocky and my dogs instead of figuring out my boy’s busy schedules and who is going to use my car. Dinner won’t have to include teenaged boy’s must-haves like pasta and dessert and might just be a simple homemade vegetarian soup. In the spaciousness created by this inevitable retirement from my favorite full-time job as “Mom,” I will likely have more time to just be still.

It is said that the Vanaprasta Ashrama can be a harsh and cruel life for an elder, especially one used to a full, rich family life, and for that reason it is now virtually obsolete in India. (Did I mention that you are supposed to renounce all physical, material and sexual pleasures during this stage?) The key for me will be to approach this stage with moderation rather than a complete abandonment of my former activities. Rocky is relieved about that!

And there are always the holidays to look forward to when the boys will arrive home with suitcases full of dirty clothes; go back to leaving food-crusted dishes in their rooms and stinky clothes on their bedroom floors just to show me how much I’m still needed. The house will be filled with their noise and laughter again and I will temporarily return to my former position, glad for the glimpse back at my old beloved life.

During this tenuous transition to the hermit stage, I’ve enlisted the help of my business partners, Suzy and Karen, to stop me from my overwhelming urge to rescue ten dogs or adopt a child as a way of holding onto my current Householder Stage. Of course, I’ll also still have my other favorite job teaching yoga that will keep me out of my pajamas a few days a week.

You didn’t think I could give up teaching yoga as well, did you?

 

When she’s not doing yoga, Jeni Martinez juggles a busy household with two 18 year old boys, Devin & Cody, a very drooly 90 lb chocolate lab named Rudy; a 7 lb yorkie-poo with dreadlocks named Tanner; her delightful husband, Rocky, whose passion for cooking delicious food has kept Jeni happy and well-fed for 30 years; and her mother, Mary, who in spite of advanced Alzheimer’s can still kick Jeni’s butt in Scrabble.

What’s for dinner?

Recently I attended a weekend training in Vancouver, BC with Judith Lasater, an internationally known yoga instructor. She asked us to take a few minutes at home the next day to jot down the five most common thoughts we had throughout the day. Sadly, my repetitive thoughts were not profound or enlightened or even remotely inspirational.

“What’s for dinner?” came to mind repeatedly throughout the day until I finally decided what to make and gathered the ingredients to begin. “What should I blog about?”, “Where is my phone?” and “Where are the dogs?” were also in the running.

My Mom, who has Alzheimer’s, has lost her ability to filter her repetitive thoughts and says them out loud over and over again but the quality of her ponderings are surprisingly similar to mine. I know I have grown irritated in the past after the thirtieth time (in an hour) she has wondered aloud, “where are the dogs?” but now I wonder if my irritation came from her beating me to the question? The most heart-wrenching statement that she repeats regularly is, “I don’t know what I am doing….” Alternated with “What should I be doing?”

This past weekend, we launched our 4th year of Three Trees Yoga Teacher Training. During the philosophy class, Karen taught that the “turnings of the mind” are called vritti (sort of rhymes with pretty and literally means waves or whirlpool) in Sanskrit, and added that once you know this word, it tends to sneak into your everyday vocabulary. We will often comment to each other, “I have vritti about (fill in the blank with the kids, our husbands, our parents, or any random irritation that has crept into our minds.)” Some of the students in the program suggested that “rumination” (the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress) and “perseveration” (The recurrence of a tune or thought in the mind) might be the closest words we have to vritti in English.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient philosophical text, vritti appears in the second sutra or aphorism, and helps illuminate a definition of yoga: “yoga chitta vritti nirodha.” Though there are many variations on how this statement is translated from Sanskrit, one common interpretation is “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” In other words, we do yoga in order to achieve a stillness and clarity of mind.

Unlike with ruminations, vritti are not necessarily negative, just repetitive. However, the repetition of the thought, the conversation, or the musing can distract us from being present or in other words, from being aware of what is happening right in front of us. If the vritti is a story we have been telling ourselves repeatedly or a conversation we have been chewing on, there is a tendency to identify the thought as truth and not just the idle distractions of a busy, stressed-out mind. Think, “My thighs are so fat.” “Why is he mad at me?” “I should have told her to _______________.” Or “What if such and such happens?”

Sometimes my Mom will sit motionless and stare into space for long periods of time. Seeing her like this is usually disconcerting and causes me to worry and even sometimes begin to act like a human-size vritti, peppering her with questions designed to get her moving. “Mom, you want to take a walk or play Scrabble…maybe watch TV?”

Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe Mom has finally achieved a state of calm, where the fluctuations of her mind have quieted and she has entered a state of meditation rather than catatonia. Perhaps I should be celebrating that, for once, she is not obsessed with the location of the dogs or wondering what she should be doing. Her countenance is as quiet and still as a lake… no waves…no vritti. After all, when babies stare over our shoulder seemingly at nothing, we say with a smile that they are “talking to the angels.” Maybe this is a full circle moment where my Mom is also re-visiting her celestial guides and instead of worrying, I should just smile? By shifting my perspective on her need to be still, I have allowed my own vritti about her well-being to quiet a bit as well.

Unfortunately, that has done nothing to help free me from the daily self-inquiry of “What’s for dinner?” And by the way, in case you were wondering, the dogs are under my desk, lying on my feet.

* Jeni Martinez is a yoga lifer. In order to have time to blog, she has had to give up flossing her teeth. (Please do not mention this to her dentist.) She lives in Twin Lakes with her twin teenage boys, her husband, her mother and her two dogs. She credits yoga with keeping her sane; her husband’s cooking with keeping her healthy; her boys for keeping her awake and her Mom for teaching her early on how to make the best brownies.