During a lecture about the concept of non-possessiveness in yoga, our teacher started telling a story about a man and his loincloth. As soon as he started, I knew I’d heard this story before, and for a few seconds, I actually thought I was having some sort of paranormal experience.
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the paranormal skills (“superpowers”) that can develop if you master some yoga postures and yogic principles, like non-theft, non-violence, truthfulness. I thought that maybe I was having a deja-vu, or that in some strange way, traditional notions of time had collapsed so that I was revisiting a lecture I’d already heard somehow. But as he continued telling the story, I remembered: I just read the story last week in a book of short articles by Paulo Coelho. I picked up the book on Ko Phangan in a seemingly-always empty store, on a stand offering used book refuse for 50 baht (less than 2 dollars).
I was surprised to find the popular Coelho book there and while I don’t always gravitate to his books, I’ve loved some and keep finding them everywhere. He shows up unexpectedly in my life, just like my travels over the last two years have yielded one unexpected thing after the next. So I took the book, amazed that the lady working there let me exchange it for my own book at no extra charge. The book was a quick read and offered many spiritual insights that weren’t new to me, but presented beautifully. I couldn’t help thinking, as I sat in class, what a synchronicity, that this story has come up twice in my life, within one week. And of course, my yoga teacher and Coelho do not believe in coincidences, which makes this even more interesting.
So, what is the story? A yogi wants to retreat to the woods to meditate and his guru tells him to take nothing. But he takes a loincloth in case he needs to go to town to beg for food. One night a mouse starts eating the loincloth and a townsman recommends he get a cat to eat mice. He does, and realizes he needs food for the cat. One thing leads to the next and soon he has a barn, animals, a wife and kids. But the story ends up going in two wildly different directions. My yoga teacher’s moral is that once you start collecting possessions it takes you on a dangerous path. In Coelho’s version, the yogi starts a meditation centre to help others in their spiritual practice; anything can have a positive outcome.
I want to heed both.