Sorry about the Sari
My experience with that exotic garment, the sari, is limited to one single event. (Hang with me here—I’m committed to making this relevant to you.) Early in my time as a member of the Kripalu ashram, I made the decision to officially become initiated into the Kripalu path. Held once a year, the initiation ritual in which the guru blessed each new disciple and gave each their Sanskrit name held great gravitas in ashram culture. I’ll spare us the many details that preceded this event and jump to that fascinating issue of attire.
My friend, Apara, older in ashram years and wiser in its affairs, offered to “dress me” in her sari for the occasion. She explained it as an appropriate response to the enormity of the commitment. Here I hit a point of hesitation; coming from the corduroy and flannel of my previous lesbian separatist life, could I really make the leap into sari-land? Getting a Sanskrit name, becoming a disciple in this community, they were easy choices. But a sari? After some consideration, throwing caution to the wind, I told Apara, yes, I would enter the land of the sari, in order to allow my attire to match the profundity of the occasion.
The day finally arrived. Standing in the big sisters’ dormitory (now the Forest Room, for those who know the Kripalu campus), Apara began wrapping—and wrapping—and wrapping the endless material around me. Standing stock still and holding my breath, I was awed at the sheer volume of the white material. Tucking here, pinning there, pirouetting me about, this process seemed endless. Previously my dressing up experience might constitute putting on a different pair of boots or clean flannel shirt. I was clearly on new ground.
Finally, there was completion. Feeling tightly wrapped while being bizarrely exposed—a strange contradiction—I half-heartedly thanked her and made my way toward the Main Hall. Walking did not come ease-fully and I was grateful the journey was a short one. I somehow made my way up the steps to the dimly lit Main Hall. Many folks already sat in back-jacks, in pre-arranged, organized, tightly packed rows. We began with prayers and chanting. The guru flowed into the room on a cloud of serenity in the midst of great frenzied excitement. And then—time slowed down for me.
As I would discover about Kripalu rituals in general, this ceremony seemed endless, not unlike the wrapping of the sari. I felt alternately overheated and cold, elated and terrified. My attention was unfortunately focused on (you guessed it) the sari. I felt so loosely clothed (see picture), while being simultaneously so tightly wrapped. When my blessing time came, quite anti-climatically, I made my way toward his holy lotus feet, attempting to manage a bow while wildly hoping upon hope that my sari would continue to cover my body—I wasn’t sure it would. Once at his feet, I received my name, Aruni, which sounded strangely and unfortunately clown-like to my ears.
The ritual eventually ended with a great hubbub of exit prayers and the like. Standing up would be the next adventure. As I made my way to my feet, I realized just how tightly my sari was bound. Like some kind of devilish trick of nature, the damned garment seemed to have become more constricted as time passed. I wasn’t convinced that walking was possible.
It wasn’t. I had to take tiny, hobbling steps toward the doors, discreetly dodging the excited other new initiates. Down the steps, one tiny bounce at a time, I eventually made my way to firmer ground.
And now, the long hop home. Literally, hopping was the only way to move forward. Trying to hop as inconspicuously as possible in the midst of such excitement was exhausting. I had to rest after every few hops and attempt to look nonchalantly around me, endeavoring to appear a curious spectator of the moment. By the time I made it to the dorm I was near-frantic and threw all caution to the wind. Because the dorm was pretty emptied, most folks milling around the new initiates out in the halls, its silence allowed me to vault myself feverishly toward my cubby. Once there, I thrust myself inside its four walls and begin ravenously attempting to separate the offending material from my sweaty skin, from the body of this new disciple named, of all things, Aruni.
When Apara heard third-hand the next day of my distress, she left a note on my bed. It politely read:
Sorry about the sari.
We never spoke of the incident.
So what does this have to do with you, with us, in this moment? What can we learn from this somewhat silly reminiscence of so many years ago?
The material of life, the fabric of the moment will constrict around us. That is simply life doing its job. Perhaps our job, in response to the inevitability of the discomfort, of the embarrassment, of the self-consciousness of life might be to not take ourselves too seriously.
When life gets tight, (and it will), when things feel oppressive, (you can count on it), can you give yourself a giggle-challenge? Can you look for something in the moment, something around you worthy of a chuckle or two? I double dutch dare you. Look around and find it. Give yourself that gift.