I was lucky enough to find that, in part, beneath the vast desert skies of Baja, California Sur, in Mexico during a pre-planned yoga teacher-training course. A landscape where mountain ridges give way to the Pacific coastline and plains of cacti and sand-blasted rock formations stretch out in between. At home, I have a black and white exhibition postcard tacked onto the kitchen wall above the sink of the artist Georgia O’Keeke standing hands on hips, looking out in awe and with a sense of purpose at the all-encompassing, sensual landscape of her beloved New Mexico beyond. She keeps me company while scouring pots and pans.
Seemingly alone in the old Mexico desert during a wilderness experience that the new-age Californians at Yandara Yoga termed a ‘vision quest’, I was awakened by the presence of another creature sharing my improvised pillow of rucksack and blanket. For a moment suspended between mutual respect and curiosity, a large hermit crab and I looked one another in the eye and then each jumped back in alarm triggered by evolutionary survival instinct. The hermit, a greater expert in nomadic ways, scurried his transformer claws through the sand dunes in search of a more peaceful resting spot. I sighed and rolled over.
Later, from the relative comfort inside my tent pitched on the El Pescadero peninsula, I could just about make out the mournful songs of migrating gray whales rising up from deep beneath the Ocean surface. The ancient sea mammals seemingly sending out a bass note for those drifting in and out of sleep on the shoreline to receive in call and response. Then the sound of these soothing hymns was punctuated by the percussion of angry waves crashing against forgiving rocks made soft by repeated nightly blows. The tidal waves were powered by the reverberating energy of a new moon, which in turn caused healing aloe vera plants rooted in the desert dust to blossom into momentary flower overnight before sealing tightly shut again come morning, as though in an imaginary dream. And just enough moonlight to light up a New Year’s Eve dance floor for playful yogis on the beach.
The generous, undemanding intimacy afforded by strange creatures in the night helps navigate the more ambiguous terrain of loss and grief, signally new trail markers on which to get back on the path to a familiar, firm footing of living in the day to day present alongside loved ones.
The Yandara teacher training in Baja had an emphasis on regular bhakti, devotional practice involving singing and dancing as a community in the evenings. This was called Satsung, together time. Mantras included the chanting of ‘guru dev namo’/ ‘I bow to the divine teacher within’. I first sang this song, over and over again, until in a blissed out trance of mind and body union, with the woman who introduced me to yoga some ten years ago, Tabitha Dean. I initially misheard ‘dev’ as ‘Dave’ and so she came to be known to me as Guru Dave, later shortened to Guru-D. It suited her. And so it stuck.
The source of the divine means different things to each of us. For me, it is simply the oneness and inter-connectivity of the natural world that surrounds us and is us. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The universality of Om.
Perhaps the surprise gift of whalesong is nature’s way of reminding those of us land-bound to keep singing and dancing throughout the surfacing ups and deep downs of a life well lived, for we will all return to the sea one day and, meanwhile, might do well to truly appreciate the sensations of salty air stinging our bare arms and of solid quartz cooling and supporting tired feet. Both Tabitha and my late grandfather, Tom, loved to sing and dance, whether at a warehouse party in Dalston or on the Scottish football terraces. They were both gurus in their own unique ways and I will miss them both so very much.