Life lesson from the kleenex man

February 12, 2019

It was around this time last year when I picked up Mysore practice again. The first 3 months of 2018 saw me stepping out into the cold winter air as early as 530am, 3 times per week at best. I had my BIG whys; (a) to overcome postnatal challenges (b) to pull myself back together (c) to feel strong (again).


 Once you turn right you will never turn back: the entrance to Ashtanga Yoga Lausanne


Although I had an advantage - Mysore practice is not something new to me. To start my day on the mat at a yogashala used to be part of my daily routines for several years but it was a whole different game back then. Battling morning traffics, juggling between work, teaching classes, socializing and catching up with rest and of course, making ends meet to give you an idea. 


This time around, I had the luxury of observing morning as it is, at its next-to-finest glory. I was as peaceful as I can be, although the thoughts about the wellbeing of my son, my drying up breastmilk supply and the amount of hair I lose on daily basis sometimes creep up my mind.


During my commute, one man caught my attention. 


Avez-vous un mouchoir? he questions every bus passengers.


Voice loud and coarse, clothed in just a thin unzipped sweater over a basic off white t-shirt, an adidas bottom and open-toed sandal. His greyish hair peeking out from his worn-out bonnet as I study him discreetly as he approaches my direction. I glanced quickly at my phone. -2 degrees. "We've got a nutcase here" I judged ruthlessly. 


Avez-vous un mouchoir? 

His body odour greeted me before his voice. 

Non, désole. 


I diverted my attention back to the passing gloomy street lamps outside my window. His gaze lingered longer than socially acceptable, probably feeling insulted by my body language, I battered myself in silence. 


That was our first encounter. It happened few more times that he quickly becomes part of my morning and I stopped wondering who he is, where he lives, whats his story and why he goes out in the cold morning asking for tissue paper from bus passengers.


Until one unsuspecting morning. 


I was eating an apple when he sat next to me and started making small talk. He asked if I was Japanese (no), Chinese (no), Filipino (no).


"J'suis Malaisienne", I offered. 

"Kuala Lumpur?"


"Ah.. Kuching? Kota Kinabalu?" 


Clad in thick winter coat and 2 under layers, I felt a pang of chill that was not there before.


The reason why I often tell people I am from Borneo part of Malaysia is because my city is not well-known. And this guy, whom I thought has lost his marbles, could name both main cities of East Malaysia without even blinking.


"Parlez-vous Français?"

"Un petit peu"


"Yes please"


And just like that, this misplaced looking guy started telling me how much he loved my country, how he adored Malaysian food culture and how he had his best Asian food experience in one of the night markets in KL. His English was not only fluent but also the kind that I love - sans accent, just proper English. Polished, as I usually call it. If it was not for his body odour, I would have forgotten that I am talking to a half-crazy dude on a quest to acquire as many napkins as possible from strangers.  


About 2 minutes into his chatter, it was as if someone has pressed his reset button and on a spur of moment, his eyes grew darker and darker as he stared emptily way past my messy hair and stood up abruptly, his right arm flung right before me. Caught offguard, I absent-mindedly handed him my half-eaten apple before realizing he was actually offering a handshake. I accepted it clumsily before he turned his back at me and started making his usual rounds, uttering his overused phrase to newly boarded passengers. 


I felt not only embarrassed, but humbled by the whole experience. I kind of convinced myself that this mysterious fellow was once a big shot in his field, possibly even at the top of his game, and yet, he skidded. He fell out of the rat race. He let the world get the better out of him. In short, he (seemingly) had a burn out. 


And there I was, sinking deeper into my seat, feeling profoundly grateful to own a spiritual practice.


By no means preaching, a spiritual practice doesn't require one to be religious.  And it definitely doesn't have to involve chanting, meditation, yoga or any kind of occult ritual. If it is in your karma to access these privileges in this lifetime, good for you - you must have done something right in the past lives to truly deserve it. 


For the rest of us mediocre souls, a spiritual practice can be as simple as practicing gratitude, living in the present moment, fasting, conscious breathing, journaling, Marie Kondo-ing and the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, in this world we are living in, spiritual moralists as I secretly call them, makes spiritual practice misunderstood and thus, hardly attainable. There are too many expectations, too many grids, too many labels. In the midst of exalted egos and blown out moralism, they chose not to understand that not everyone is born with equal level of spiritual intelligence, and not everyone aims to be enlightened in this lifetime. 


Some people, most I believe, just want to live a meaningful life by their own definition, as far as their karmic spiritual intelligence allows, while thriving to be a better person. 


Life lesson from the kleenex man that all of us can learn from: do not take mental health for granted. Start small. Choose any kind of spiritual discipline that resonates with your soul. The kind that makes you feel alive and yet grounded at the same time. Every living being is born with spiritual intelligence and every life experience helps us access it. Embrace this fact and no matter what life throws at you, what ran over you and no matter how long you have relapsed, you will always be able to find way back to yourself.


A self-reminder as well. 





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