Sunset prayers on the Ganga
Day Care at its Finest
As the weeks turn quickly to months, my understanding of why I am in Rishikesh is slowly taking shape. Seems that during an intense experience, we are at first only capable of watching it unfold. When questions remain, Impatience rears its ugly head and confusion decends. I am only just now emerging from another period of uncertainty to understand, once again, that all is right with the universe, that I am in exactly the right place, and that I (are you ready for this?) must increase my patience and self-discipline.
My daily regimen has not been as regimented as it could be. Rishikesh is a powerful place with energy that is constantly shifting. No one is immune to this environment, from the animals to the babas and all the western and Indian tourists. I am personally deeply affected by the moon (in the west, too), and my descent into confusion and second-guessing coincided with its prolonged disappearance two weeks and four days ago.
I live at Ved Niketan, a dilapidated ashram (place of spiritual practice) that is more like camp for westerners. Earlier this week I moved rooms, from a relatively noisy room at the back corner of the ashram to an extremely quiet one on the courtyard. I hadn't planned on it, but I was in the right place at the right time. My new room is lovely; it has a beautiful painting of Lord Shiva and Parvati, a nice ceiling fan, a separate kitchen, shower (water comes out above my head!) and toilet. My patio is enclosed, cage style, to ensure my safety from bad monkeys, and I have a bed both inside and out. (Indeed, my seemingly exaggerated good fortune continues, and many of those who know me are compelled to comment about it. For my part, I know I am well taken care of and often feel guided in the simplest of things. Why I am deserving of such guidance I cannot understand, but happily I do not need to.)
Swami Dharmananda is the resident teacher at Ved Niketan and I have been attending his class for two weeks. He gives his daily, two hour lecture in a dank underground meditation hall, talking about all aspects of yogic philosophy (the eight elements of Raja Yoga including what is right and wrong (Yama), what are our duties in life, how to evolve spiritually, proper practice of yogasanas, pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation, as well as Indian traditions and their meanings and "how to be a yogi mother" (i.e. never, EVER, contemplate the abortion of your baby after conception...this will produce lifelong feelings of rejection in your child), to all kinds of admonishments on proper living and plenty of stories with morals and meanings...
Swamiji is a grumpy man in his mid-fifties. He does not like to be bothered and he does not like many people. In my very first class, I angered him by daring to attempt a reclining position, and I have not yet recovered. Swamiji is intimidating. It is impossible to hide from him. The other day I woke up with an old Santa Claus song in my head..."he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake...he knows if you've been bad or good..." This is Swamiji. He looks in your eyes and you know he has penetrated; you feel that he knows you better than you do. It is remarkably uncomfortable, and I have been feeling uncomfortable since I began his course. Sometime last week, Swami looked around the room and settled his penetrating gaze on me. Then came the most dreaded question: "Where are you from?" How is it that Swamiji knows this is the one question I am always loathe to answer, let alone in front of a large group of people? I managed a weak "U.S."
As it turns out, my new room faces the Swami's quarters at the opposite end of the courtyard. I feel his presence at all times. I have no idea why Swamiji is part of my life, nor what he will have to teach me, but the simple fact that he makes me so uncomfortable tells me that I have much to learn. So I've resigned myself to another month is this singular place called Rishikesh, for the sole purpose of putting up with Swamiji.
In other news, I have decided against Ayurvedic treatment at this time; the extreme heat is already posing challenges (as far as how to remain hydrated, strong, and mentally grounded) and I don't want to unnecessarily provoke weakness. I will pursue treatment later in the year, after the monsoon, likely in the state of Kerala in the south of India. For now I will try other kinds of cleansing techniques, starting with neti (nasal flushing!) and Basti (enemas!). Does it get any better than this?????
In the meantime, thank you Lord for this opportunity to evolve into a stronger, more peaceful soul.
with greatest affection,
love and light,
Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits
- Name: Lola Bites Back
- Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany
Laughing all the way...
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Sunset prayers on the Ganga
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Honeymoon is Over
My first six weeks in Rishikesh flew by. I met all kinds of wonderful people from all over the world and I was greatly inspired by several remarkable souls in particular. Now most of the people I connected with have moved on, as travelers tend to do, and their departure has left me feeling depleted. Another cherished wave of friends is leaving this weekend and their familiar presence will be greatly missed. Such is the nature of life on the move; connections are made, relationships are formed, and goodbyes are said. For the less evolved it could seem frustrating, but for those who understand that these connections never go away, it is a beautiful opportunity, if also a difficult one.
The end of any one phase is really just the beginning of another. Now that the honeymoon is over, a new phase of silence and solitude looms ahead. Now that I have regained the ability to read and write, I have committed myself to a six-week lecture course given by the Swami Dharmananda in my ashram, which he refers to as “Yoga Kindergarten” and sometimes “Yogi Mother Factory,” depending on his subject. Swamiji is a very knowledgeable and articulate teacher who can be prickly at times but is well worth any headaches he may provoke.
During this next phase my challenge is clear: to follow a prescribed daily regimen including breathing exercises, chanting, regular Ayurvedic meals, yoga asanas, and Ganga baths, all techniques designed to address my longstanding health issues by relaxing my body, detoxifying my mind and healing my soul. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Twenty-nine years of wrong living will take much time to correct. For this reason I am preparing for an extended healing process, likely to take years of dedicated pursuit.
Turns out, the ancient tradition and teachings of yoga and Indian medicine make such perfect, intuitive sense to me that I feel like I’ve finally come home. The best and simplest example is the Doctrine of Karma (a.k.a. Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion for you non-hippie types in the west). In physical terms, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In philosophical terms, the intentions behind your thoughts, words, and actions will always come back to you. Negative thoughts, words, and actions increase your storehouse of negative karma, ensuring additional lifetimes of pain and suffering for the soul. Conversely, positive thoughts, words and actions done without expectation of a particular result increase the goodwill you will receive now and in future lives.
The most beautiful thing about this law of cause and effect is that is a simple and perfect system of natural justice. It prescribes that each and every one of us is responsible for everything we do, without exception, whether we pay for it now or later. The Law of Karma shows us that it is unnecessary and useless to judge the actions of others.
The Doctrine of Karma is just one of many ideas that correlate naturally with my intuitive understanding of the workings of the universe. What an exhilarating experience to realize that the ideas I cultivated from my understanding of modern physics, and all the ideas I have been slowly developing on my own, in the dark, over the last six years, are systematically and comprehensively supported by the ancient sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda! Eureka! In yogic philosophy there is no such thing as coincidence. When a young person seeks spirituality, it is because the seeds of spiritual pursuit had already been cultivated in a previous life (Sanskaras). Clearly, I have been drawn to India for the purpose of continuing along this spiritual path.
The Heat is On
The heat is chasing all the westerners north and each day there are fewer and fewer around. The last few days have been relentlessly humid, a small hint of the monsoon on its way. I am curious to witness the monsoon on the Ganga, and am entertaining the idea of enduring the ungodly heat for the next three months. When Dr. Vishnu talks about the viral diseases that take hold after 42 degrees (Celsius), I am intrigued. Viral disease in 42 degrees of humid heat sounds remarkably miserable. To live through this would indeed be a testament to mental strength.
Anyone close to me knows that I believe in the inherent adaptability of human beings. This explains my insistence on enduring extreme heat as well as my persistent efforts to appreciate Marmite ™, and my conviction that toilet paper is optional.
The moon has been gone for the last week, and without it I feel lost. Last night we finally had some thunder, rain and incredible lightning. The power continues to go on and off randomly in true India fashion. It’s a beautiful thing to witness Swargashram go completely dark, especially from the rooftop of one of the cafes overlooking the Ganga. It’s quite another to lose your ceiling fan in my room in the midst of a sweltering afternoon. Sweat dripping down the forehead, even at rest!
My body continues to adapt to the conditions; My feet are toughening up, my nails are nearly gone, my skin darker and my face wilder. The heat has made it impossible to choose clothing. I need a creative dressing strategy to deal with the coming summer season; clothes must be cool but body must also be completely covered. I have a sari, but five meters of cloth is unappealing, even if I could tie it correctly.
When I arrived, I realized I needed a time-telling device. I purchased a small clock in the market for 50 rupees. Within days it fell on the floor and stopped. So I purchased another one for another 50 rupees. This one stops and starts randomly, with no apparent motivation. Thus I am constantly uncertain whether the time on my clock is accurate or not. At first I felt frustrated. What time is it?? But then I began to realize that my poorly functioning clock had much to teach me about faith and the relativity of time. I could just alter my perspective, trust that all my engagements would work out okay, and choose to be satisfied with only an approximation of the time. Turns out I can usually make an educated guess about the time based on the clock and the position of the sun, and this seems to be good enough.
When I reflect back on the depths of misery I experienced in Our Nation’s Fine Capital City, I feel deep gratitude. Without this experience to test the depth and strength of my spirit, I could not now experience the overwhelming joy and appreciation now in my heart. Every day I am thankful for each turn in the path of my life, including all the warts and scars. I’m grateful for the people who have faced the trials and tribulations of life by my side and for those who have offered unconditioned love and support. Our spirits are all interconnected, whether we are aware of it or not.
BIG hugs and kisses,
With much love and light to all,
From the holy city of Rishikesh,
PS. Food is medicine. Food is life. Food is sacred. Please never forget to appreciate it!
Bless this food
Let it nourish our souls and bring vitality to our spirits
That we may continue to seek the path of light and love
Let no one go without
This sacred source of Life
That we are so blessed to share together now
PPS. There are so many great resources here..please feel free to convey questions and I will research them!!
Sunday, April 08, 2007
God is in India
Many countries like the US have strict rules to ensure ordered driving. In India, there is no order on the roads. That's why we need God in India. If the people honk at you in the US, you feel bad. If the people don't honk in India, you also feel bad. On the way home last night my friend and I suddenly found ourselves in the path of a charging bull in the main street of Swargashram. I had only a split moment to move out of its way; my friend was not so lucky and the bull trampled his foot. But by the grace of God neither one of us was hurt.
It is becoming more clear that my one-year rule applies to Rishikesh; I simply need at least one year to settle into any new place. My first month here has been a whirlwind of new sensory experiences, so much that all I've been able to do is smile with delight as they wash over me. But the time for some change is coming and, though I don't know what it will bring, I do feel drawn to the nature and away from the tourism. India is many many things, but I think relaxing is maybe not one of them. More nature means more relaxing. Shanti shanti (peace peace).
Rishikesh offers a never ending supply of learning opportunities. At the moment I'm drawn toward learning foot massage (what better service to offer those in pain?) as well as mantra chanting, or the repeated singing of prayers. (Swamiji recommends mantra chanting for those who have trouble meditating. I am one of those people.) I'm very interested in all aspects of the human body from anatomy to nutrition (Ayurveda) and all healing therapies. I've sharply decreased my use of toilet paper and am anxious to acquire a large glass jar for tea making (plastic bottles are a nightmare problem!). I purchased my first sari yesterday and with some luck will find someone to teach me how to tie it. The heat is slowly becoming more unbearable and I am covered in bites by all kinds of insect-like creatures. I find that lemons are a wonderful resource; I use them for flavoring the water, cleaning the sink and cleaning myself. I may also venture out to a beauty parlour soon just to see what kinds of treatments they offer...perhaps waxing or massage? My western needs are slowly being replaced by natural ayurvedic treatments. Every day is a new opportunity to learn how to do things more simply and more naturally. No mirrors, no hair conditioner, no matter.
It is difficult to convey just why India is so great to one who has not been here. The culture here is not only a little bit different, it's a lot different. It can be remarkably uncomfortable, disgusting, overwhelming, frustrating. But none of this matters because God is here, in the shining eyes of your neighbor.
love and light to all,
with BIG hugs and kisses,