1301 Lafayette Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

10329 Illinois Rd, Fort Wayne, IN 46814

Phone: 260-627-YOGA (9642)


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

INCENSED By Amanda Beard

 Naively, I never thought of incense as a smoke even though I have lit it and watched it burn a thousand times.  Incense is simply incense, nothing less and nothing more.  My personal definition of incense is as follows: a material that is burned to release a fragrant aroma and bring one back to herself, through the sense of smell.  Olfactory receptors receive precious aromatic messages and send them to the brain; the effects of a stressful or draining day fade.  Incense works aroma therapeutically for me with each full inhale and complete exhaling breath that I take.  My grip on life relaxes where I can be present, returning to my senses.  In order to create the right mood for this story, I lit a stick of incense before sitting down to write.  There is something relaxing about watching the line of smoke rise.  Like the game of Clue, this story contains a culprit, a room, and a weapon, which are as follows; my boyfriend, Reynolds, a hotel room, and a stick of incense. 
Reynolds and I met years ago through our mutual “yoga friends,” that is the friends we practiced yoga with in a back room at the local racquetball club.  The first time I went to Reynolds’s apartment he had a lovely stick of incense burning.  “Yum!  What’s that?”  I had asked him.
“They say it’s the feminine version of nag champa.”  (Nag champa is a classic type of incense, for unawares.)  I thought that sounded romantic.    
Eventually Reynolds and I moved in together.  It was fortunate we both liked incense because many people do not.  Must love incensewas on my list of desirable attributes in a partner.  Reynolds and I quickly formed a cozy routine.  After celebrating our first anniversary of cohabitation, his birthday was approaching.  I decided to surprise him with something out of the ordinary and reserved a room at a brand new art-centered hotel in the midwest city where we live.  The flower shop where I worked had undertaken a time-consuming project to produce modern, stylish, permanent pieces of succulents, moss, and witchy objects for the conference rooms.  I had a sneak peak of the place before it opened, and I could hardly wait to show my beau. 
On the day of the birthday event, I told Reynolds to pack his bag for the night and gave him a list of what to bring.  When I got off work, Reynolds was ready to go and I could hardly wait.  As we drove toward downtown, he figured out the surprise.  We arrived to the hotel smiling.
Our smiles faded slightly as the check-in area was blindingly white and extremely open-concept, exposing us as part of the Saturday night scene.  Introverts by nature, Reynolds and I prefer to blend into the scenery, but that was impossible there on the wide blank canvas.  We checked in at the front desk, and I clumsily unfolded the paper of my temporary Triple A card, in order to receive my $40 discount.  There had been a mix up since I’d changed addresses, and I was still waiting for the real card.  The temporary card sufficed, and I handed over my credit card number to the clerk.  Once we passed through the shimmering castle gates, we went upstairs a few flights of stairs to our funky white room.  It was so very bright, like L.A., that we decided we needed to sit down for a second and adjust to our surroundings.  After drinking a glass of red wine, taking tasty bites of Trader Joe’s truffle cheese, and hearing about the writing projects of my boyfriend’s mystically inclined train conductor coworker, I was ready for a shower.       
I hopped in under the gentle waterfall flow design of a shower and tried to wash away the last four years of my life, which have been a challenge.  All was well in the shower, save the incredibly minimalist detail of no place even to hang my washcloth.  Had they intentionally forgotten to include a hook?!  I wrapped the wash cloth around the faucet knob, but it flopped down onto the tile floor, which grossed me out too much to use it again.  There was no door to the shower (kind of liberating), and a Japanese style sliding door with a semi-opaque glass window to create the division to the bathroom.  I had cranked the heat up in the hotel room to 80 degrees, which produced a steamy tropical effect in the shower.  As I took a deep breath in, I smelled the earthy goodness of nag champa wafting in through the cracks of the sliding door.  Reynolds had brought some incense.  
The nag champa smelled strong with the window closed and no where for it to escape.  We burn nag champa often at home during our asana practice, and the grounded, floral fragrance of sandalwood and frangipani flowers fades in a few hours.  I wondered if I would find Reynolds in a meditative seated posture on the spacious hotel room floor when I emerged from the bathroom.  His yogic seated posture/incense time is an endearing part of sharing life with him.  As I put the finishing touches on my evening look by applying some pale pink lip gloss, the last song on our yoga music playlist went silent.  Life was lining up.  
It was a glorious night in late winter, and I was able to walk to dinner without wearing a coat.  The normally nasty city air felt like a divine gift because it was joyously warm; in fact, it was mildly intoxicating.  People flocked to the outdoors to enjoy this sneak peak of spring.  Citizens were out and about, and happy.  Reynolds and I tend to get in serious moods rather easily, and we talked for part of our walk about our fears for the health of the planet and the current desperation of humanity.  We related the global struggles to our individual suffering, and by then we arrived to the restaurant.  Soon our hearts were lighter because the meal was delicious and the conversation was good.  Reynolds shared that he would like for us to live in an ashram sometime in the not so far future.  The intention would be for spiritual practice and support, but not as an escape from the world, he vowed.  I shared that independently, I had had the same idea.  The birthday getaway, however, was no-part ashram.  Instead, it was pure sensual delight.  
  After dinner, we found our way back to the stimulating hotel lobby and stopped at the front desk to ask if they could send up the other robe that had been promised, since there had only been one in the closet when we arrived.  We wanted to hang out in our robes like Jason Schwartzman in “Hotel Chevalier,” the prologue to the Wes Anderson film “The Darling Limited.”  One can dream!  
As I write, I can see that my stick of incense has burned to the end and that is enough incense for now, but the story continues.  After sipping on water flavored with honey dew melon that was offered in the lobby and analyzing the art on display, we headed to the bar that was full of glass blown colored lights.  The sweet, jazzy waitress kindly brought us a French press pot of coffee.  I simply can’t drink liquor like I used to and would rather sharpen my senses rather than dull them with a mixed drink, at this point in my life.  Then she brought us a small bag of popcorn flavored with truffle oil.  “Truffle is in!” I exclaimed and savored it.  We stared at the colored lights and talked at great length about which ones caught our eyes and why.  I felt that I was getting to know my sweetheart more fully.  We both noticed that an older man who had been sitting alone when we arrived was joined by his wife, and he gently put his hand around her waist.  Love was in the air.  
We learned shortly thereafter that incense was also in the air.  When we returned to our hotel room, there was a blinking red light on the phone, alerting us of a voice message.  I fiddled with the modern phone for a moment, then the speaker phone revealed that the message was from the hotel manager.  In a booming voice, he informed us that we would be charged a $250 fee for smoking a cigar in their non-smoking hotel.  The employee from housekeeping smelled it when she brought up the second robe.  She saw the ash, and he would be working until midnight if I wanted to discuss the problem with him.  I flashed back in my mind to my scholarship fifth year of college and heard my Eastern Religions professor say “ash is the essence of everything.”  
Could that tidbit of wisdom help me in some way? I wondered.  I reminded myself that in the impermanent world, this too shall pass.  Then I focused on the present moment, which was much heightened by the caffeinated coffee I had recently consumed and the looming discussion with the hotel manager.  Using my 1940’s gangster movie voice, I asked my lover why he lit the incense, “Why’d ya do it, honey?  Why’d ya do it?”
He replied, “I like the smell.”  Fair enough.  I had not told him that it was an entirely non-smoking facility, and at that point in my life, I did not consider incense a smoke.  I had given Reynolds a list of what to pack in his overnight bag, and incense had not been on it.  
In the open-concept revelation lobby, I learned that the manager was a big guy.  I am a small woman, but I was feeling mighty.  “Ash is the essence of everything,” I heard in my mind again.  We are all one, I thought, softening my heart.  I told him the whole story and asked to be pardoned, for it was a mistake.  Breathe deep, like in yoga practice, I silently coached myself.  As the manager was talking, my mind was still running on its own.  I thought that even if I was a bigwig, I would not want to pay that price for a stick of incense, from a box that cost $3.45 from a store called “The Good Earth.”  In fact, most bigwigs I know value their money too much to readily pay that kind of a fee.  The manager made it clear that if the room or the pillows or the comforter smelled of smoke when they checked it in the morning, I would be charged the fee.   
 He emphasized, “The entire hotel is non-smoking.”  For the finale of that conversation, I gracefully produced the box of nag champa from my purse as evidence supporting my claim.  However, the action did not get my desired results.  When I saw the look on his face, I knew he was incensed! 
After the inconclusive exchange of words, I went back to the room and opened the window.  Reynolds turned on the fan.  The buzz kill coupled with his state of dehydration from the strong coffee put my lover to sleep while I began to pack my bags.  I had tried to fight, now it was time for flight.  Voice of reason came to me, and I realized how unlikely it would be for a hotel manager, working smack dab in the midwest, to consider that housekeeping’s claim of cigar smoke was merely innocent incense.  Nag champa is commonly used as an incense in spiritual and religious ashrams, but not in mainstream hotels.  With its varied uses worldwide, nag champa is a profitable product for the big incense companies.  Some incense is formulated to burn with a lighter fragrance and with fewer toxins, but the one Reynolds brought was wonderfully thick and gnarly.   
Sadly, Reynolds and I were not deliberately polluting the clean air hotel.  In fact, many yogis would say that incense purifies a space.  I stepped under the magical waterfall shower once again to cleanse my long wavy hair of the incense scent.  When I emerged from the shower, I could smell incense nowhere in the room, except for in the luscious locks of my boyfriend’s curly hair.  “Shanti shanti!”  I exclaimed.  In the ancient language of Sanskrit, “shanti” means peace.
We were gypped out of an hour of our stay in the hotel because the spring forward time change occurred that Sunday.  It did not matter for me since I usually wake early and had plenty of quiet time that morning.  “Happy Birthday!”  I called to Reynolds after the sun rose.  Then he nearly broke the Keurig coffee maker in the room, too sleepy to figure out the fancy contraption.  I went down to the lobby and returned with a fresh cup of joe.  “Who do you love?!”  I said grinning as I handed it to him.  
When I went to check out, the hotel receptionist, who had streaks of turquoise in her blond hair, asked me if I had received the call from the manager.  I told her the whole story, and surprisingly, she admitted she used incense, too.  Then she said, as another woman approached, “This is the manager manager.”  I wondered how much power the big manager from the night before held or if his zero tolerance attitude was a job requirement.  I exhaustedly explained the story for the third time, going into more detail about our yoga and meditation lifestyle that included almost daily doses of incense. Themanager manager and I went to check out the room.  As we went up three floors in the elevator, I said, “I don’t know what to tell you, other than that I’m telling the truth.”  Awkward!  Upon entering the room, she could not smell a thing.  I hesitantly confessed to her that I had helped to deliver the floral arrangements for the conference rooms and had greatly enjoyed staying at the hotel.  To emphasize that I was truly telling the truth about the incense, I told her how “funny” the story would be for my incense loving yoga friends, which in that moment was the seed of these words. 
Since the adventure at the art hotel, I learned from my uncle who has travelled extensively that hotels have a difficult time keeping smoke-free environments truly smoke-free.  You know the old adage, “you learn something new everyday.”  Now I empathize more with the hotel managers.  You just can’t take yogis anywhere!  Not even the life-affirming tantrik kind who long to be simultaneously in the spiritual and material world, seeing them both as One.      
As we attempted to leave, Reynolds put the parking ticket in the machine at the gate repeatedly, but the slot kept refusing it.  He tried a credit card, to no avail.  We were very ready to be released and sat staring at the gate.  He backed up his car and pulled into the next lane.  The same thing occurred.  We buzzed the help desk, and the female operator answered our questions with a grumpy attitude.  We continued to take long slow inhales and exhales.  We found extra measures of patience in our hearts on his birthday.  A jolly faced worker came out to help and told us that the technicians were still working out some bugs in the parking machine.  Like us, he tried and failed for a few attempts with the parking ticket.  He reached for his keys to free us, but he had forgotten them inside the office.  We sat a little longer; inhaled, exhaled.  Finally, he and another man emerged from the building.  They opened the gate, waved to us, and said to have a good day.  We smiled at each other.  Our next trip is to the ashram, and our first stop is home to light a stick of incense.  

About the Author:
Amanda grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana and loved dancing ballet during her childhood.  She found a book on hatha yoga in high school when she was looking through the shelves at the public library and became fascinated by the artistic physical postures and the notion of a movement based spiritual practice.  While attending the University of Rochester, she took courses in hatha yoga and modern dance through the Dance Program from 1999-2003.  As a Take Five Scholar at the U of R, she studied yoga philosophy with Dr. Douglas Brooks and Dr. Paul Muller-Ortega.  In 2006, she completed her certification in Anusara-inspired yoga with Todd Norian.  She has taught yoga in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Nantucket, Massachusetts.  As her own practice of yoga continues to expand and evolve, Amanda encourages students to travel the deepest path of their heart.       
Find the rest of her blogs here  http://beardwickyogis.blogspot.com/

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