Ode to India

IMG_0365.jpg

Oh India, mirror of mirrors!
I walk more easily now in your crooked streets and craggy sidewalks.

You are my teacher.

You beg me to let go, to watch my step, to soften my judgment.

I walk as if in wonderland, enthralled by your jeweled colors, billowing saris, bobbing turbins. I am a child in a candy shop and you gently show me my greedy nature.

I want….
…to take a photo.
…to take the jewels home.
…to capture the flavors, smells, scents and sounds.
…to take, to have, to hold and to keep.

But there is no taking, keeping, holding or “mine.”

There is only flow.
Letting go.
Relaxing into what is.

Oh India, your dust lines my lungs, your dirt a second skin on my body.

IMG_9447.jpg

My heart aches seeing your brilliance….
…the Taj Mahal
…the snow dusted Himalayas
…your fantastic festival Holi painting people purple and pink
…your plethora of temples honoring the gods….Ganesh, Shiva, Krishna, Kali….

My heart aches seeing your pain…
…the bride burnings
…the man with a deformed arm reaching for rupees into my rickshaw
…the shanty towns butted up against millionaire apartments
…the heaped garbage…

How do you manage?
How do you keep it together?
How does it work?

My heart starts to get the joke. It all works out in the end.

IMG_8661.jpg

The electricity works.
             For a while.
The hotel room is mostly clean.
The horns ARE the traffic system.
             You must be the flow. No room for doubt.
Squatting and having no toilet paper IS an option.

I’ve come here to practice.
To open my heart.
To be present.

I practice breathing.
I tell myself, “Let go, let go.”

I remind myself the driver wants to live.
I remind myself they’ve done puja for good luck.
I remind myself I am not in control.

Is this why your people pray so much?
Light incense, roll sandalwood beads between brown fingers?

There are so many paths to God in your vast land, from the Himalayas to the beachy shores. Why are some lives so filled with so much struggle while others flash and sprint around in Lamborghinis?

“Only one rupee, only one rupee,” she says, hand moves towards mouth. The baby needs feeding.

Black hair is matted, her feet dry and crusty.

IMG_9768.jpg

Another woman’s craggy face reflects the 100 years it has turned up towards the sun. Brown, with rivulets running through the valleys of her cheeks, she radiates warmth from inside her stooped and bent body that has traversed the Himalayas to find safety in India, away from her homeland, Tibet. She has no teeth. She gently suggests we give her some rupees.

We take her photo.

We take.
We give.
India gives.
India takes.

Give. And
Take.

IMG_9254.jpg

I return home changed.
I return home with more cracks in my heart.
To let the light in.
To let the light out.

I am more resilient.
I am more tender.
I trust in the flow.
More.
Than before.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you feel "called" to India, check out two trips I'm offering with Mela Joy, Founder of Touch of Spirit Tours. Two spots left for the Fall 2018 trip and we'll have a new one for Southern India in early 2019. for more information and itinerary see Touch of Spirit Tours


Seeing Red!

We are what we feel and perceive. If we are angry, we are the anger. If we are in love, we are love. If we look at a snow-covered mountain peak, we are the mountain. We can be anything we want…” Thich Nhat Hanh
 
I know I’ve heard it many times – "whatever you place your attention on is what you’re going to experience." It seems so simple and straightforward. But this lesson hit home in a new way when I was in India with our group last month.

Each day we had an exercise to look for one color as we moved about the streets of India. Each color corresponded to a Chakra. We were to take pictures of that color throughout the day. The first day was Red, for the Root Chakra and as we set out on our way to see the temples of Mamallapuram, lo and behold, it seemed all of the women were wearing red saris. We all exchanged smiles, and snapped away, often taking pictures with the women.

The next day, we traveled on to Tiruvannamalia, a few hours to the South to visit Sri Ramana Maharshi’s ashram, and our focus was on orange. Well it turns out, all of the Sadhus were wearing orange, and they lined the streets as well as milled about the ashram.

The group began to ask me if I had called ahead to get India to cooperate with our color exercise. And so it went – whatever color we worked with, we not only found it, because we were placing our attention on finding it, we had the visceral experience of this lesson.

It is true, that wherever you place your attention, that is your experience. The person who sees the glass half full is right. The person who sees the glass half empty is right. It’s all in the perspective.

So, the question is what do you want to focus on? Where do you place your attention and what are you growing in your life? These are the questions I will keep asking myself.


There is no Escaping Ourselves

In the swarm of rush hour traffic, horns honk and cars sway between lanes, as though there were none. The sun wanes, it is late in the day, and the air is hot and sticky. I have my window rolled down on the passenger side.

We pull up to a stoplight, bumper to bumper with other drivers and in the pause of moving cars a flow of humanity begins to surge.

That is when he arrives at my window. The one that is rolled down. A young man in his 20s with thick black hair and deep brown skin. He’s so stealth I barely notice his arrival until his eyes press me gently. For money.

I freeze and find myself staring straight ahead. I can feel fear grip my belly. It flutters and flips somersaults. My throat tightens and my mouth is dry like the desert. My inner compass is out of control.

What should I do?

Maybe he’ll go away.

Do I give him money?

My mind is a tornado of thoughts.

I glance left for a split second. He’s missing part of his arm which he points to and bobs his head.

I feel a stab to my heart.

I wish I hadn’t rolled my window down.

Still looking straight ahead, I hope he might leave, relieving me of the flurried discomfort. But he just keeps on mumbling something gently and pointing to his arm.

“Ok, ok” I think.

Money, that’s what he wants.

That’s what will make this uneasiness abate.

I’m so flustered. Bhati, who’s driving, says nothing.

I begin to open a pouch in my purse where I’ve stuffed some smaller rupee bills. I can feel his anticipation, some surge of energy on my left. He hasn’t budged from his stance. There is no shame, no blame in his tenor. He’s simply doing his job, targeting people like me who spend 1200 rupees on a new shirt, 12,000 rupees on a new bedspread and 3,500 rupees for dinner with a friend.

I hand him a wad of small notes, catch his eye for an instant and look back to the road, my heart racing all the while. As he disappears back into the current of people a wave of sadness grasps me.

I missed the critical piece of the interaction I realize.

I missed acknowledging him as a human being.

I missed seeing him as a person, like myself.

It was all so fast and furious, such a swirl of fear flurries, guilty privilege, desperate discomfort, fumbling for rupees, hot sticky air, wanting it to all go away.

I went numb.

I fell asleep and blundered through the moment trying to stay awake. But inside, I wanted to run back to my safety zone, the luxury of my sumptuous hotel room, with the spinning fan and the cool floors. I just wanted him to go away so I wouldn’t have to feel so awkward, so guilty, so unsure and scared of the pain and suffering that stood right in front of me.

I have the same feelings at home seeing a homeless person on the street in winter, in the rain with a tattered cardboard sign saying “Even a smile helps.” And when the overwhelm is too great for my heart to handle, I want to shout “Heal Yourselves,” like Jesus did in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. And then I realize I’m talking to myself.

As we begin to move again with traffic, I sit, stunned, snapped out of my slumber for a moment. I contemplate what it means to help someone.

I know I didn’t “help” him by giving him money. I helped myself. I bought my own peace of mind, paid off a tiny bit of my American, white privilege.

I know the slipperiness of feeling good about “helping” someone. I’ve been the person who has traded “help” for the energetic currency exchange of love. Yes, I’ve traded help so that you will love me, so that you will think I’m a good person, so that you will think I’m strong, capable and dependable. Because I like to feel that way about myself. And let’s face it, if I’m helping you it must mean I have some part of my life together.

But help. It’s slippery. What’s our own motivation for helping? What do WE want out of a situation by helping? And can we really help?

In this nano-second of a moment in Jaipur, I knew I wasn’t helping.

I was paying him to go away.

Funny thing is, he’s been with me ever since.

 


India Lesson #6: Settling into "Being"

Typical Day during PanchaKarma

It's 10 am, it must already be at least 90 degrees out and I’ve been up for 5 hours. I can feel the mounting oppressive heat of the day which zaps any motivation to “do” anything. 

Good thing I’m here to relax and rejuvenate!

My typical PanchaKarma day starts at 5 am for me. Not because I’m on any one else’s schedule, but because I naturally wake up then and it’s cool. It's still dark out, so I light my ghee lamp, a small brass  cup, that holds ghee and a cotton wick stuffed down through a contraption in the center.

With my room lit by the yellow flame, I roll out my yoga mat and begin my day with a practice. It feels good to get the body moving, because most of the day I’m laying around reading or resting. By 6 am it's time for a treatment.

Treatments for me have varied, but let's just say they all involve either medicated oil poured all over the body, medicated ghee taken internally, medicated water or milk drizzled over the body, or steam. The treatments have lasted anywhere from 5 minutes (taking the ghee) to an hour (the abhyangas and drizzles). However, it’s their effect that has taken up the bulk of time here.

By 9 am most treatments are done and we have our first meal of the day – breakfast – for which I am usually ravenous. Whoever gets to the dining hall first lays out the stainless steel tin plates and cups with a spoon and we wait for Papa G (Dr. Sastry’s father)  who doles out our meals cooked by his wife Uma.

This morning’s breakfast consists of Dosa (like a very thin crepe) and a creamy coconut chutney, with a dollop of cut up spiced bananas. Papa G makes the rounds giving each of us portions of food, fills our steel jugs with herbal water that helps with the cleansing and gives us kashaya tea – an herbal blend made for the cleansing process, which feels like a big treat.

When done with breakfast we have the whole day ahead of us to fill in restful ways. Some days the only thing I’ve been able to do is go directly to my bed and lie down after the morning meal. The major rest days have been during the detox – about 9 days – consisting of ghee consumption, steam treatments (to loosen the toxins) and then a purge day and a rest day.  

Given that my intention for this PanchaKarma (PK) was to rejuvenate, I give myself “permission” to do nothing. For me, doing nothing looks like lying on a bench on the porch and looking at the Palm trees sway. Or at dawn and dusk, lying in that same spot and listening to the symphony of birds. We are situated on the edge of a jungle.

I notice that as each day passes, the ability to “be” comes more easily and I am discovering the value of doing nothing. Of pure rest. I feel calm. I feel relaxed. I feel a sense of awe and wonder, and creative ideas are starting to present themselves to me without me “having to do” anything. Part of my intention was also to get clarity on my next steps in my life both personally and professionally.

In my more energetic moments, I have been writing, reading and drawing. All activities I love. I’ve gone for walks around town with my new PK friends, or alone. I have a deep sense of ease and inner peace that is filling me from the inside.

Now, on day 17, in the rejuvenation period, I am noticing I’m calmer, more centered. My skin feels really silky. I am more flexible in my yoga practice. I am much more present with everything  I do – washing dishes, walking, sitting. I am actually experiencing the moment without the cloud of anxiety rushing me to get up and “do” something. My mind feels more clear and I am happy. I have a renewed sense of purpose and direction, and I know that everything will work out in the end. Whatever I decide to do from this point forward. All I have to do is show up as fully as possible for every part of the journey, and let go of worrying about the outcome.

.