Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Two September 11ths

I was doing my favorite thing in the world on On September 11, 2001: practicing yoga with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois at Chelsea Piers in New York City. After class, we sang happy birthday to Guruji's daughter, Saraswati. Then we paid our respects to Guruji. After receiving the usual hug and kiss, he asked me the impossible question: "You come to Mysore?"

"Yes," I said, "In January," and he patted my cheek twice and said, "Good, good."

A few minutes later, we walked outside, rounded a corner, and saw the ball of angry black smoke rising from the first World Trade Center tower.

The next few days were a whirl of stocking up on food, visiting friends, inhaling poisonous white smoke, trying to get out of town, and making my way to practice with Guruji in the orange zone (Read the rest of my 9/11 diary here).

Of course I made good on my promise to come to India in January, staying four months at the old shala. It opened doors that I thought were closed to me forever, and I returned four more times. From Pattabhi Jois, I learned mental and physical discipline that prepared me for my studies with my satguru, Sri Dharma Mittra.

9/11 provides an opportunity to count our blessings, which is a component of the Niyama called santosha or contentment. It's also a time to reflect on the past decade. After 9/11, there was a yogic feeling of community and one-ness in NYC as people from all backgrounds came together to deal with the tragedy they'd experienced firsthand. When I returned to Chicago, the mood was quite different: people seemed far more interested in revenge.

I will teach all day on 9/11, in order to share the practices that have changed the course of my life (and to keep myself away from the television). I also plan to offer prayers to those whose lives have been affected by that tragic event - from those who perished and lost loved ones that day to the countless widows, orphans, homeless, jobless, incarcerated, mentally ill, and disabled people who are the victims of the wars that followed.

The 9/11 anniversary also provides an opportunity to take a hard look at our own actions.

Did you make any promises that day, to yourself or anyone else? Have you kept them?

Is it time to make some new ones?

I will also reflect upon that other 9/11.

September 11, 1893 was the day that yoga came to the west. That's when Swami Vivekananda made his famous speech at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The audience loved him, and soon he was speaking and teaching all over town (and then, eventually, New York City). He received a standing ovation from the 7,000 people in audience, whom he declared his “Sisters and Brothers of America.”

He said:

I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.

"I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings:

"As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."

Read my 9/11 article, which was published in the Chicago Reader, here

Hear Swami Vivekananda's beautiful speech here.

The 2003 documentary Ashtanga, NY (at top of page) takes place during Pattabhi Jois's visit to the city in September of 2001. Order a copy here. Or watch it on Netflix.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A nice post Gail. Thanks for sharing your post C.K. -- I had read this several times before, but always brings home the event.

    I had an unusual perspective. We were visiting in the military community of Virginia Beach, VA where my son-in-law is an F – 18 Navy pilot. The reactions I saw were from the military side – controlled, getting prepared and what I would call a ‘Zen like atmosphere.’ Everyone immediately went out and filled up their cars with gas, bought bottled water, can foods – and then waited to see what orders came through. My son-in-law was scheduled for a night flight, but the base immediately went on lock down, so he just spent time with his family. His neighbor was a SEAL who was on base, and he never returned home until about a month after 9/11. He never needs to explain his movements.

    It’s just like when JFK was shot – you take those memories to the grave.

    Ralph from DeKalb

  3. Thank you for sharing your reflections!

    I hope you didn't spend too much time near the TV yesterday.

  4. Anonymous10:04 PM

    Speaking of the similarity with JFK being shot, I wonder if the whole truth on 9/11 (whatever that may be) will ever come out.