When you were a young boy, as young as three or four, you were asking the big metaphysical questions like, “Who am I?” “Where did I come from? “ and “Where am I going when I die?” There’s no way to know where that questioning came from, but I sense it was it a memory that was passed to you from your ancestors; the imprint within all of humanity that calls some of us to return ‘home’.
As a youth you had a difficult time accepting that the purpose of life, or all there was to aim for in life, was to finish school, go to university and study the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects, to get an apartment, a car, then a wife, a dog, and then have children; only to die at the end of it all, without having ever really dealt with those primordial questions of life and death. Not that those worldly goals are less worthy than ‘spiritual’ goals, you were never drawn to pursue them. They were not at the top of your ‘bucket list’. You wanted to live the life of your dreams; which was to travel and explore this incredible planet that we live on. You wanted to experience different cultures, learn their music and their languages. You wanted to go on surf adventures and develop a yoga practice; to study with masters and inquire deeply into the spiritual and mystical traditions of the world - in particular, India.
By 2005, after completing your teaching apprenticeship, heartbreak and heartache sent you on The Search. You gave up your apartment, resigned from your teaching job, sold your car, furniture, and packed away your belongings. Inspired by one of your mentors, Clive Sheridan, you were led to do many three week silent retreats with him, each one invoking in you the ‘Vision Quest’ to find Sacred India, which involved dreams of pilgrimages and adventures to the temples and forests, and the power spots; the places where thousands, or millions, of pilgrims since time immemorial had done their sadhana; the places where nature and humankind intersected in away that created a vortex of energy and a presence that could be felt, absorbed and metabolized.
In 2006 you had a very powerful retreat and experience at the Mookambika Temple in Kollur, where you spent time meditating and practicing in the very same caves and temples where the great Shankaracharya had himself been. You would sit in ancient temples, walk barefoot through villages, sit by the river and play guitar and write songs. Days would be spent hiking through the forest and swimming in remote waterfalls. You felt connected to nature, and had many interactions with the pilgrims, and felt like the whole experience was a pilgrimage to your own heart.
After a long bus trip you arrived at the Green Hotel in Mysore, where the Sunday Market was happening, and from where you were standing it felt like such a scene, a clique of westerners; it felt like Club Med; full of the young, lithe and beautiful. It seemed so superficial. It was everything that you didn’t want to experience in India. It was a culture shock. From being deep in the heart of India and it’s religion and spirituality, as well as the adventure of being immersed in nature, meeting sadhus, mendicants and devotees, and being far from creature comforts; here you arrived to find a group that had basically brought their own culture to India and had tried to make it as much like home as possible. Doubts crept through your mind and it seemed that everyone was only interested in the external elements of the Yoga tradition – which was limited to the asana practice. You felt like everyone was missing the real juice of the practice.
You observed that one of the downsides of the Ashtanga method is the hierarchical approach. It could easily feel like climbing a ladder from beginner, to intermediate to advanced. Since it’s also the ‘Advanced’ students that become Certified – and therefore at the top of the ladder, there can be a tendency to strive to get to the top, and for the ‘Advanced’ students to be idolized. So, the method, which is a tool for enlightenment, freedom and personal transformation, can quickly become, not the means to an end, but the end itself – and the original purpose for practicing – to find inner peace and contentment, can be forgotten, as all the patterns instilled in us from our childhood – the feelings of not being good enough, not being complete, and the striving to be loved, to be seen, to be appreciated, to be good; lead us away from the internal quest and instead to seeking external confirmation and recognition.
You had an internal struggle that trip. Everything about the shala went against what you were searching for. So you moved on, and went on the Pancha Bhuta Stalam Pilgrimage in South India, to the five Shiva temples representing the five elements of nature. Starting at the Fire Temple in Tiruvannamalai. Then to the Akasha (Ether) Temple at Chidambaram south of Chennai. But, looking back on it, that ideal was too romantic, too idealistic. In reality you didn’t really feel any true connection in the Hindu temples. There was a sense of faking it – of trying to be spiritual, but not really feeling any sincere heart connection to the gods and goddesses; to all the rituals, the noise, the crowds – to a culture that was not yours. The lesson that you learnt was that you really felt your heart at peace when you were in nature. So, before long you were back in Bali and back in the ocean.
For the next couple of years that conflicted relationship with Mysore continued, but something still called you to go back annually. The doubts were still there, but you loved the practice intensely and this was actually something beyond your control. After another heartbreak in 2008 you set out for Mysore to find your refuge. You were determined to never be hurt again, and as a defensive mechanism, decided that you would become such a skilled Yogi, by diving so deeply into your practice and learning the art of detachment that you would never feel sadness or heartache again.
That didn’t work - which was all this part of the cosmic plan as it was the catalyst to propel you deeper into the practice and your ongoing relationship with Mysore. At the end of that year you met your great love in life, and your lifelong connection with India was guaranteed. In 2009 Guruji passed away, but you were experiencing a renaissance, and took part in Sharath’s first Teacher Training in 2009 - at a time when the Ashtanga community was becoming divided into those who were Guruji’s students and used to go to Mysore, and those who would become Sharath’s students.
You were still Seeking, still doing lots of practice, but you had realized that pilgrimages weren’t going to provide the contentment you were looking for. What you needed now was to heal your heart, something that is unfortunately not really spoken about too much in the spiritual traditions. There was no way to get around it; no amount of asana, pranayama of meditation, was going to be able to give you the peace that you longed for. It was then that you started to realize that it was the Yamas and Niyamas that were most important. It was the ability to live a simple and virtuous life that was the goal to attain. All the time Guruji had been indicating this, and Sharath had followed in his footsteps with the same message; become well established in the first Four Limbs – Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama, and the rest will follow. Sharath became an inspirational figure to you – a man who was living a loving family life and upholding good moral virtues. This became something you aspired to.
At the time you didn’t really realize it, but you were reaching an age where you had to fulfill your destiny in regards to work and career. After all those years of trying to satisfy the higher chakras and to answer your metaphysical questions, you had to go back and sort out your lower chakras i.e. money, sex, power, career, relationships. The physical practice became your tool for investigating all these; to find out what makes you tick. Also, after 15 years of practice you were starting to reap the benefits of the work you’d put in. As you pursued your career, trying to establish a foundation for building a future, you began to teach and travel more, which meant that time out in Mysore for practice and time off the road became both a necessity and a delight.
By 2015 you realized, with deep gratitude, that you were actually living the life of your dreams. More or less, everything that you had set out to achieve in 2005 had come true. With the idealism of finding Sacred India, the Quest and the Vision Search, having subsided, and the realization that what you truly valued was to simply be a good human being, to be content here and now; the Mysore experience became one that was genuine, free from wanting and free from judgment. It was a place to go and connect with your teacher and friends, to spend time in India, and take time out from teaching and the road, and absorb yourself in the practice.
The biggest lesson that those years taught you were that all aspects of life need to be addressed; that so called material and spiritual goals are totally interdependent and not higher or lower than each other. The past needs to be healed, and the Seeking needs to be honored, but at some point the recognition must happen that the life you are looking for is happening now. The answers to all the metaphysical questions are to be found in life in this moment. The path to find that will vary for everyone, but in the end, the common sense wisdom of the ancients to live in accordance with the yamas and niyamas is all that remains to be done. With the material goals of life satisfied, and the mind and heart at peace through living honestly and truthfully, you are able to rest in contentment, rest in who you are, amidst the activity of life, right here and now. - Mark Robberds
Mark Robberds has been studying yoga since 1997. He is a Certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher (one of the few Certified by KPJAYI) and spent 10 years travelling regularly to India to practice with the late, legendary Guru Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, and the last 6 years with his grandson R. Sharath, of Mysore. He also trained as an apprentice, first with Mathew Sweeney and then with Eileen Hall from 1999-2005 at YogaMoves in Sydney.
He has been teaching workshops, retreats and as a guest teacher, internationally since 2005. Mark wishes to share the teachings of yoga in a way that inspires people to develop a passion and love for the practice. He incorporates the philosophy of yoga into his talks, music and devotional songs, so that the deeper aspects of the yoga tradition can connect people and bring them closer together. To learn more visit his website at Markrobberds.com