This is my grad photo from my high school yearbook. It was accompanied by this poem I wrote.
“My arms/Wrapped around me/Wrapped around light/Before it fades/From this corner/Of the world/That I am creating”
I was a poet and an artist; I had lived large for a girl growing up in small town Nova Scotia, and I felt very much on my own. Upon high school graduation I took the bait of a scholarship to a prestigious liberal arts school to study “The History of Western Thought,” rather than pursue my passion at fine art school. By year’s end I felt hopeless and empty, as Neitzche had likely intended. Voltaire’s timely recommendation to “cultivate our own garden” I took literally by joining WWOOF Canada after first year and heading west.
As an itinerant organic farmer, a series of uncanny synchronicities led me to Salt Spring Island and the centre’s organic gardens; learning about yoga was not my motivation for being there, but I instantly felt at home. After my agreed upon two weeks were up, I asked to stay longer and was much obliged.
There were only five of us karma yogis that summer and we were mostly assigned to farm work, and some housekeeping and kitchen work as needed. Though I avoided asana class, as I found it very uncomfortable to be so fully present in my body, I thrived in community, in service and in song. Satsang became my weekly highlight where I found a way to give voice to my longing for union. But what I loved best was getting to know long time community members. They showed by example that a life in pursuit of spiritual goals was valuable and doable, which was a revelation and a profound acknowledgement of my own deepest yearning.
When I met Babaji tears flowed down my cheeks for days, while doing dishes, gardening, eating, singing. It was the inevitable result of the peeling away of layers of the metaphorical onion – bound to make one’s eyes water. I returned east with a new name (Amrita) and a new goal in life. I was going for God.
The next four years could be summed up in this poem I wrote during that time for my lover.
I’m going for God/And I’m going for Gord/But perhaps not in that order.
I connected romantically with him (Gord, not God) before leaving NS to attend Kripalu Yoga Center’s three month “Spiritual Lifestyle Program”. I suffered through asana practice but thrived once again in spiritual community. I went on to sit, and then serve a Vipassana meditation retreat, live with Hare Krishnas at a national rainbow gathering, and followed Amma throughout the eastern states before returning to Gord and life in Halifax.
I worked a few years at a macrobiotic restaurant called ‘Big Life Cafe’ and found a few local Kripalu yoga teachers to study regularly with. These were still early days for yoga and vegetarian restaurants in NS. My teachers all taught out of church basements and students signed up for a whole course of weekly classes and were expected to practice at home in between. You came to class to learn yoga, not just do it. If you wanted a sticky mat you bought it from the teacher and they cut it from the roll.
It was challenging to maintain a yogic lifestyle in the world outside SSCY, and I walked down some very shady paths searching for teachers, community and identity. Daily sadhana eluded me, but self- judgement for my lack saturated my days.
I returned to SSCY in 2002 as a karma yogi and to attend the first Yoga Teacher Training offered. My experience at the Big Life Cafe allowed me to serve as a cook throughout my stay and I entered YTT firmly grounded once again in the lifestyle I craved. The training helped fill in the gaps in my last four years of studies and created a practical framework for my continued practice and eventual teaching. My few years of yogic adventures and misadventures allowed me to now recognize and fully trust Babaji as a teacher and see the purity of intention behind his teachings and this community.
When I returned east I started the “Free Range Yoga Society” to offer twice weekly two hour yoga classes for free at the university. I ‘taught to learn’ and my classes quickly filled up. I continued to cook and then bake (organic/veg/vegan) as ‘rightlivelihood’. Still ‘Going for God AND going for Gord’, we moved to NFLD and then Klemtu, BC for his schooling and subsequent employment, and I continued to teach for free to whomever, whenever I could.
I managed to attend the 2004 and 2006 retreats, the latter while feeling quite tired of yearning for life at the centre, and still challenged by living ‘yogically’ while out in the world. During darshan with Babaji, I mentioned my desire to move to the centre and devote my life in service to this community. Babaji did not seem convinced of the appropriateness of this plan. In fact, he teased me about it.
I didn’t move to the land. Babaji must have intuited that the universe had other plans for me. Gord and I continued our little life in North Vancouver and within months we were growing our own little community. I visited the centre a few times before Arlo Starr Muter was born on July 4th, 2007. That was the last year Babaji was able to attend the retreat and I was grateful to offer Arlo into his arms. It was also the last time I was able to attend the retreat for many years as Silas Oliver Muter was born Feb. 25th 2009 and visiting our families in the east took priority.
I’m still going for God and Gord, albeit at times imperfectly. I began teaching again four years ago at a cohousing community. Now that my boys are in school I’m teaching as much as I can, while still practicing ‘householder yoga,’ and completing my 500YTT designation.
Though I have finally cultivated the self-discipline to maintain a regular ‘mat-based’ sadhana, I now know more than ever that yoga practice is not just on the mat, but in every breath and every action moment by moment. My gratitude grows every day for my family, my home, and my opportunity to share the teachings of yoga.
Though I cannot live on the land, I have found ways to serve the centre. I guest teach at yoga getaways, write for the monthly newsletter and I was the kid’s cook and an asana teacher at the last two retreats.
Life can be messy, and I have never been known to be neat. Perhaps I am not the ideal yogi but my heart is always striving towards the light of truth. I believe that finding the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga and meeting Babaji just as my adult life was beginning has changed my life’s trajectory in the best way possible. By meeting people who have dedicated their lives to truth, service and growth in spirit and community while still living in the world of family and livelihood, I have found role models that continue to guide and inspire me. It is okay to have a seeker’s heart; it’s possible to dedicate one’s life to seeking truth. I’ve found a well-worn path and I am not alone on it. For me this is huge.