Cleaning is my Xanax

I am five days from pulling the great green van away from the house and heading to massive nature to meet the adventure.

In the meantime I’ve been cleaning. And I mean DEEP CLEANING! The kitchen cupboards, the pantry, the refrigerator. Oh, I know I should be preparing for the trip, checking the engine, the electrical connections, filling the water tank for the sink.

But no. I’m cleaning.

It is my Xanax. It calms me in the face of trembling fear.

So, last night I pulled out the big guns – the toothbrush and hot soapy water and got to work on the grit and grease underneath the front chair of Van Go like a dental hygienist scrapes plaque from teeth. As the water turned deep brown with every wipe of the microfiber rag, I felt serotonin flood my system and relaxation set in.

Because, the truth is, this trip is working me over, and I haven’t even gotten to the START line, which is Monday, July 11th.

Flurries of questions crowd my brain at regular moments throughout every day, going something like this:

“Why am I going on this trip? I mean, isn’t it silly? What are you trying to prove, Diane? Are you trying to prove something? Because you know, you don’t have to. You could just stay home and have a pleasant easy summer. On the other hand, once you’re on the road it will ALL be fine, and you will love the parks. You will meet awesome people, see amazing sites, have time to be. Remember, even though you feel alone in this, you aren’t alone. Ever.”

The other channel in my brain wakes me up in the morning with a barrage of things to “remember”:

“Find the bunji cords, get the sticky Velcro, make sure you get the shade issue handled before you go. Should I keep the mechanic appointment? Don’t forget to buy a new cooler. Oh, you have to sew the curtains. Food, think nuts, veggies, ghee, that will go in the cooler.”

It’s endless.

As I clean the van, bringing out the shine of the original yellow paint underneath the front seat, I wonder about rain and cold, and what I’ll do in the middle of the night when I have to pee with “weather” out there. I wonder about the bears and bear spray, and how it works.

When I pause in the midst of all of the logistical preparations, and the burst of doubts, and take a deep breath and remember why I’m going, I feel the flood of excitement. I can’t wait to stand in the great Cathedrals of our country – the National parks – and have my jaw gape open in awe at the beauty created by nature over millions of years, with no help from any human.

When I remember this I am certain I go to have space and time to sit with my bigger questions in life, like “Who am I? What IS this life really about? Why do we suffer? What brings deep joy? What is love? Really? Why do we get caught in fear like a mouse snapped up in a trap? Where does fear come from? And why is it as powerful as a tidal wave knocking down sand castles?”

Once I’m sitting behind the big steering wheel in the van, I will be in the river and I will swim with myself as the only one who can save me with my tools - my breath, my yoga mat, my altar, a good sense of humor, a good book and some art supplies. I am ready to put down the mantle of fear.

I am going to gather up trust and faith in my basket. I am going to embrace the mystery about how it will all work out, where I will go, what I will do, who I will be at the end of this journey. I go open to being a tumble weed on the road, ready to embrace the mystery where I will go, how it will all work out and who I will be at the end of this journey. I go to gather up trust and faith in my vessel.





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.


India Lesson #4: Keep Letting go

Getting to the Ayurvedic Ashram!

After 8 hours of travel, I arrive at the Mangalore airport, hoping there will be a driver waiting for me to take me to the Ayurvedic Ashram. This hope rests on one email exchange in which I sent my itinerary to Dr. Sastry and he wrote back with a cryptic message:

“I’ll send a driver to pick you up.”

I had put down no deposit, there had been no confirmation letter, no agreement signed. Nothing to soothe the anxious Western mind. I was trusting something deeper. Some intuition that THIS was the place, as well as the fact that my teacher had been here before.

As I de-boarded the plane in the sticky hot air, I smelled a hint of fish.  I walked towards the small baggage claim area, my head turning this way and that to see if there was a sign with my name on it. 

Not yet.

I found my black bag, rolled it towards the only exit door, again looked this way and that as I stepped outside, and there It was - the sign:

“Duane Sherman.”

That’s me, Duane!

I nodded to the driver – a young, thin man with a kind smile. He took my bag and guided me towards his white sedan. 

My attempts at conversational banter quickly settled into a comfortable silence, for his English was minimal and my Kanada, non-existent. In truth, I didn’t want to talk after all of the travel. I sat in the front seat on the left side as we drove the windy roads through the lush, tropical national park full of massive palm trees and other tropical fauna.

The roads were as curvy as a tantric Indian sculpture, and with each bend in the curve came a honk from either my driver or someone coming our way. The driver slid by cars in front of us by a hair’s breadth. I had to practice actively relaxing.

Fifteen years he’s been driving and no accidents. Or perhaps he didn’t understand my question about how long he’d been a driver.

We arrived 2 ½ hours later in Hariharipura at the ashram – my stomach queasy and my brain a bit frazzled. Upon arrival, he carried my bag up to my room with a bed, fan and bathroom. Outside the room were other PanchaKarma guests. We all said a hello, and they let me know dinner was being served.

They suggested I wash up and come down when I was ready. I sat next to Melissa that night and she filled me in on what was what. In the morning I’d get a first treatment – probably around 6 or 7 am. It would most likely be abhyanga massage. She helped me with what to do at meal times – that we all set the table, wash our dishes. That we should bring down our big steel jug to fill with the herbal water used for our cleansing.

The guests are the informal information center, because there is no check in, no formal greeting, no “check list.”

I discovered Dr. Ashwin would be out the following day for his new baby’s naming ceremony. So I would meet with him the following day.

I felt like I’d been swept into a current that was going to guide me down the river with no effort if I could simply let go and relax. One of my biggest concerns had been allayed, and that was getting here.

From then on, I planned to swim with the current and go with the flow.


India: Lesson # 2 - It all seems to work out!

In my very efficient, check-it-off-the-list, American way, I email Dr. Sastry at the Ayurvedic Ashram in Hariharipura, India telling him I want to find out about doing PanchaKarma with him in March. I want to find out the basic details, you know, like how much, how long, when there might be space  and what kinds of treatments I might be in for.

After some short email exchanges in which he is somewhat vague about everything, he tells me I can come on the 18th of March and to arrange it so I stay for 3 weeks.

He mentions no deposit, makes barely any reference to money or treatments. The tone is welcoming, but short and sweet.  Since I am going to have to make plane reservations, forking out a chunk of money to get to some place in India I can’t even pronounce, I notice that I want to make a deposit.

I email him again. “Are you sure I don’t need to make a deposit to reserve my spot?”

“No, no,” he writes back. “You are a friend of Dr. Scott’s. That is enough.” I imagine him saying this with an Indian accent, bobbing his head left and right.

When I read the email, my belly tightens with the first hint of fear I will have to let go of if I am to venture on this journey. This is simply the prelude.

I take a deep breath and let out a little sigh with a peep. “Well, ok then.” I say to myself. “Here we go. Welcome to your journey.”

I dial my travel agent “Debbie, I’m going to India in 2 months, can you hook me up with tickets?” Not only does she hook me up, it feels like another sign from the Universe – my tickets, with domestic travel within India, come to just over $1,000. 

So, fast forward – I am sitting in the Mumbai Airport, waiting to catch the last leg of my trip to Mangalore where I will be picked up by a driver to head to the Ashram. I still can’t pronounce the name of the place and there are so many things I don’t understand about India. I’ve been here a week, and what I have observed is that in the end,  everything actually does seem to work out.  The more I let go and relax, the happier I am and the more magical it all feels.

As I sit, waiting, I cap down the urge to reconfirm that there WILL be a driver picking me up when I land.

 Why worry? It’s just me and my suitcase. The worst that can happen is he won’t be there. And then I’ll figure out the next step!

As I walked out of the Mangalore Airport into 95 a weather, I scan the signs, hoping one of them has my name on it. And there it is: Duane Sherman. I smile and have an inner chuckle.

Off we go for the 2 1/2 hour drive on a windy road through the jungle to the Ashram.

India Lesson # 1: Surrender, Trust & Visualize

After 24+ hours of travel from San Francisco through China to New Delhi, eyes blurry with sleep, and all brain cells primed to lay my head down on clean sheets, if only for 6 hours, there was a glitch when I arrived at my hotel.

As I stood at the hotel counter, legs still water logged from flying, and Summit asked me for my passport, I reached down into my secret pant pocket to find it empty. 

No passport.

I quickly patted down my other pockets, took a peek in my money belt and felt my heart begin to race. I was going to be here in India for a month, but was flashing on new possibilities for my trip  – endless waits at the American Embassy in New Delhi, being sent home – or perhaps they WOULD accept the digital copy of my passport photo I’d scanned into my phone the day before.

Knowing how much Indians love their paper forms, I had big doubts about the latter possibility. 

Summit, I have a problem. I don’t have my passport.” I told him. He bobbed his head left and right, flashed a big smile and told me I had a problem.

“Yes! I do! And I’m going to need your help to solve it.”

Just to make sure it wasn’t tucked somewhere else, I dumped out all contents of my carry on backpack, to make sure I hadn’t accidentally stuck it in with a book or in between my important papers. 

Nope. Not there.

That’s when I began the positive self-talk to mitigate a melt-down.

“This is going to be ok, Diane. Think.  Think. Where did you have it last?” My mind scurried down all the alleyways of where I’d been and what I’d done since I got off the plane just a short one and a half hours ago. I back tracked  to standing in line at the Pre-Paid cab outside of the airport. Dark thoughts of someone ripping me off in line flashed on screen, but I hadn’t felt anyone bump me, push me or nudge me. 

No, that wasn’t it.

Back in time to the SIM card booth, inside the airport. That’s when I heard the man’s voice in my head, “Passport!” He had commanded me.

“Summit, I left my passport at the SIM card place.” I was thrilled that there was a thread of hope. I handed him the number of the place and he called.

“Yes, it’s there.” 

Hearing those words I felt like I’d won the lottery. But the deal wasn’t done yet. More self-talk and now I started visualizing the passport in my hands. “See it in your hands, Diane,” I told myself.

“OK, how are we going to get it back?” I asked Summit.
“I will have my driver get it, but it’s going to take some time. He’s picking up a large group now. You will have to wait.”

A small price to pay at this point. Though I longed for the sweetness of sleep, I relaxed into the new reality and surrendered.”  

“Perfect,” I said. “I am so grateful. Thank you.”

As I sat on the couch in the reception area, my mind came up with all sorts of ideas about how my passport could be sold and by whom. Until it was in my hands, there were any number of outcomes.

I dropped into more positive self-talk and visualization and kept seeing and feeling it. Then I started a gratitude practice for Summit and his help, to the guy at the SIM counter for being honest and for the driver who would be bringing my passport back to me.

After about an hour and a huge group of Indian men had checked in, it was 1:30 in the morning and the lithe driver came in, passport in hand and gave it to me. Never have I felt so grateful, patient and relaxed.

I heavily tipped both the driver and Summit as an offering of gratitude. He checked me into my room and I lay myself down on those bed sheets and had the best sleep I’ve had in years!