Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits

Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany

Laughing all the way...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Ask, and it shall be given to you; Seek, and you will find; Knock, and it will be opened to you." Matthew 7:7

It's difficult to fathom that March is nearly here. The first of March more or less marks my one-year anniversary here at the University of Mother India. Just yesterday night I realized (all-over-again-for-the-first-time, of course) that I am continuously learning and changing. At times it can seem I am in a rut, and maybe I spend some weeks plagued by an unnamed aimlessness. But my faith is - thanks to God - strong, and like clockwork, the day arrives when the pieces of the puzzle unite for a glorious moment of Simple Understanding. Ahhhhhh...

The truth can be described in an infinite number of ways, but its nature is always simple. Those moments when I feel some simple truth are small but powerful reminders from God that I am on the right path. A bit of encouragement from God goes a long way, indeed.

We are all pilgrims here in Rishikesh. We are here to learn how to leave everything behind. Only once we have learned to leave everything behind (family, friends, careers, desires, possessions, ideas and concepts, etc. etc.) can we open ourselves up to whatever will be. However you want to call it - God, the universe, Mother Nature, pure consciousness, blah blah blah - it has a plan for us already. Our job is to be ready for whatever comes. Prepare yourself now, in good faith, for what is to come. We have and will have everything we need as well as much, much more.

I apologize that I cannot write more, or put pictures. Every moment in this place pulses with life. There is little opportunity to think of tomorrow while I am consumed by this very moment.

I am loving you all,
And sending big (western-style) hugs,
PS: Two days ago I had my first Ganga bath, a.k.a. my first baptism of 2008. All I can say is, it's freezing and I think I wait another week before I go again. :)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Still Spinning in Rishikesh Wonderland

One thing I cannot stress enough is that I always have what I need. That is, when looking back over the last 30 years, I can see that I never didn't have what I needed. And, if I wanted something that I didn't get, it's because I didn't need it. It's all so very simple really. I lack nothing - absolutely nothing - and each new blessing that comes into my life is pure abundance. I have relatively few possessions and yet, I am quite spoiled..

A simple example: just yesterday one friend made tea for me, but not just any tea...Jasmine Tea. How long has it been since I sipped the sweet, fragrant jasmine flower?? I don't recall, but I do know that I was positively giddy with excitment and anticipation for... tea. A simple pleasure transformed into an exciting luxury. I have moments like this almost continually.

This morning I finally shifted rooms at the ashram and now I am settled back into my old cage from last year. It's freshly painted and the nearly 30 years-old painting of Lord Shiva and Parvati still graces my bedroom wall. It feels good to be back, though I'm secretly hoping there won't be quite as many creatures sharing my room this year. The frogs, geckoes, cats and even the preying mantis are welcome back, but I feel no love for the cockroach.

Especially as this time around I have graduated to cooking my very own food again! No more restaurants! Just a big fat bowl of spinach with mushrooms, green onion, sesame seeds and soya sauce (special!), a dish I have craved since I arrived last year. I can assure you it was well worth the wait.

In other developments, I read my very first word in Sanskrit just a few days ago! Learning to read and write in Sanskrit is like being five years old all over again. I just happened to be practicing one character in particular - "ra" - when I noticed it written on the side of a building. "Ra, ra, ra-m!" Lord Rama's name was my first word! I'm taking it as a positive omen for my future study.

Stranger still, I have lately taken up Bible Study. It began as a method to teach English; my "student" - an avid Bible scholar - reads to me from the Bible and I correct his English. But then it became apparent that I have little or no familiarity with or understanding of The Bible, and, as is my nature, I started to ask questions. Voila! Bible Study. It occurred to me that in the past I briefly studied parts of the Talmud (Jewish), the Koran (Muslim) and the Vedas (Hindu), but what happened to my education in The New Testament? Is not a large portion of my family Christian?

And, just in case you were thinking that life in Rishikesh is all spiritual bliss and contentment, last week I was in Rishikesh market to buy vegetables when an unnamed Indian pig-of-a-male manhandled my breasts. Well, it's been a year now and I simply will no longer tolerate this kind of treatment. I immediately went after him - screaming - threw his shoulder back and smacked him in the face. He just slithered away and disappeared into the crowd, but my heart was pounding and I was sweating and angry. And I had been in such a happy mood just moments before! Some people applauded my aggression but the truth is I did not feel like a winner. I think I will refine my strategy a bit and the next time a pig-man touches me I will hit him with my shoes. It is unspeakably offensive in Indian culture and I really want to get them where it hurts...

Next time I'll have to share my adventures with the police in Laxman Jhulla..heh heh heh..

Must head off to my next engagement - yogasana - followed by dinner, barjan (devotional singing) and, yes, another attempt at the Mother of all spiritual practice: meditiation.

Big love and kisses and hugs for my loved ones,

PS: SARABELLA! So sweet to have a note from you on the blahg! Get my mama to send me your email, or to send you mine..

PPS: Pictures are forthcoming...really and truly!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Home Again

Rishikesh is a wonderfully strange place, a place I am quite happy to call home. Already this week I've been through a few unexplained ups and downs, i.e. a sudden burst of tears for no apparent reason, or a sudden burst of energy for, again, no apparent reason. Curfew at the ashram is 10 o'clock but I have not been able to sleep until midnight at the earliest, and then my nights are packed with wildly vivid dreams.

Then, as if on cue, yesterday I was struck by the mysterious 18-hour flu, which made my Sunday fasting super easy. I woke early to call mama and afterward crawled back to my bed sick as a dog - with a strong headache, nausia, and body aches - where I slept until four in the afternoon. The next day I was mysteriously back to full power. This is the stuff of Rishikesh, indeed.

I am struggling to avoid schedule overload, as opportunities abound! Some things I consider for the near future include volunteering in a hospital in Rishikesh (to challenge my fear of hospitals, blood, open wounds, etc..) and working as a yoga assistant (correcting postures). I'm also thinking to start practicing massage once again, a critical life skill that everyone should know how to do. But for the moment at least I will simply take another week to settle into my new (old) cage, nesting, building my kitchen, buying a cooker, and of course, hanging curtains! Does it get any better than this?

The whole clan is here (except Niko!) and we waste our extra time in the usual ways; drinking chai, playing backgammon, complaining about Germans (just kidding, people!) Actually, Germans are wonderfully innovative and precise peoples, if a tad bit anal-retentive at times. I'm not sure why we all get such pleasure out of picking on them, but, well, we all do. But I digress.

I think it must be impossible to live here and not be continuously grateful for such a good life. I could never reproduce something like this in my own country. In fact, I don't have access to health care in my own country. Were I to go back for a visit and, God forbid, have some kind of health problem...I shudder to think of it.

But here I have everything I need. I am so relieved and thankful for this I feel the tears coming even now...

If you ever have any problem in India, complete strangers will never hesitate to help. Perhaps this is why I never feel lonely or afraid in India. And another great thing about India; you can be anything you want to be. It doesn't matter one bit what you wear, how you speak or whether you bathe. It simply doesn't matter.

Thank you, God. And thank you to my wonderful family and friends. Thank you thank you thank you..
all my love,
Lola Masha

PS: Breaking News! I have just semi-confirmed my suspicions about my visa status. Normally, foreigners must cross the border into Nepal (Pakistan or Sri Lanka) for a stamp every six months, but.... if I register with the district police, I may not have to! Apparently, God truly wants me to be here and who am I to question it?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Rishikesh Embraces Me with Open Arms

I am finally back to regular yogasana with my beloved teacher Surinder and after only five days I am once again turning into a rubber band! There can be no doubt that I was made to perform yogasanas (except I do lack a bit of strength). Surinderji insists that I must become a teacher and I think after one year of consistent study and practice, it could be possible. So looks like I'm in for the long haul...

And I’ve begun studying Sanskrit with an adorable Swami at the Sivananda Ashram just across the river. Already I’ve completed the alphabet (52 "letters") and have begun with vowel-consonant combinations. It’s a bit like art class.
Just like India is the Mother of the world, Sanskrit is the Mother of all languages. It is impossible to overstate it's influence on the world and I am privileged to study it. If you made a Venn Diagram of languages, all languages would be little bubbles inside the big Sanskrit bubble. I really love Venn Diagrams. You should love them, too.

And I really love languages. So much so, in fact, that I continue to indulge in language overload, gathering words and phrases in many languages simultaneously including Japanese, German, Hindi, and now, Russian! Russians are scary…moreso even than Israelis and Germans put together. Perhaps that’s why I dream of going there. German and Japanese I continue to study simply because I have opportunities to work in both of those places. And Hindi, well…you know I can’t leave India until I speak Hindi!

Aaaakkkk! I was planning to write a comprehensive update, but look what came out!

So it looks like the Sri Ved Niketan Ashram is now officially my home. I have somehow managed to convince the staff to 1) remove the person living in my old room, 2) paint the room, 3) put tables in the room, and 4) give me a long-term discount. So, letters, Camomile tea, bras and especially PHOTOS (hint hint) can be reliably sent to;

Ms. Dana Maria, Room #32
Sri Ved Niketan Dham
Vishwaguru Yoga Ashram, Vishwaguru Nagar
P.O. Swargashram-249304
Dist. Pauri Garhwal, Via-Rishikesh
Uttarakhand, Himalayas

until next time,

BIG love and hugs and kisses,

Late Update: Looks like Mama Bear is on the way....!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

100 Rupees to Paradise

One afternoon as I was sitting on the side of the road waiting for the chapal walla to fix my broken sandal, an auto rickshaw suddenly appeared from nowhere, stopping directly in front of me. The driver stuck out his head and said simply, "Paradise?" I laughed to myself and from sheer curiosity, I asked him how much. "100 rupees." I soaked in the information; 100 rupees to paradise? Am I dreaming? I smiled and told him, "but we're already in paradise!"

Even though I stayed some time in Gokarna, I never actually made it to Paradise Beach. Maybe just to give myself a good reason to come back.

My room near the beach was a simple brick room with a nice, smooth cow dung floor and an extremely dodgy electrical socket. It was one of the smallest rooms at Mabla House, a guesthouse and home run by Mr. Mabla and his wife Parvati. Directly in front of my room I had my very own "private beach" (read: sandbox), which also happened to be a popular meeting place for local children and puppies. During their holiday from school, Parvati's youngest daughters created an elaborate kitchen where they cooked masala dosa and other delicious sand goodies for us. When a Czech couple arrived with their young son Josef (4 years?), he joined right in, unfazed by the different culture, language and physical appearance. Idyllic? Yes. I decided that children are like small, wise Gods that we should have more respect for.

While many people cycled through Mabla House during my stay, many others were quite settled in for the season. One Israeli girl in particular - Kali - and I became fast friends, in large part because she was absolutely hilarious. She made spot-on impressions of the Indians (not easy to do!) and often sounded like the mafia when she spoke. During the last full moon (Jan 22), we sat in her room and laughed ourselves silly until four o'clock in the morning. Nothing seals a new friendship quite like a well-matched sense of humor! We made many jokes together about the antics at Mabla House; her "wing" was filled with Italians while my "wing" was mostly occupied by Germans and Austrians. This arrangement was an endless source of (possibly slightly off-colour) jokes for us. (Note: Never mistake an Austrian for a German simply because they are speaking German. They don't appreciate this so much.)

One German in particular was a skilled guitar player who graciously helped me with basic guitar maintenance (tuning, putting strings, etc.). We spent some time together making music and singing and through him I met many other Germans, including one I'll refer to as "Manfred." Manfred and I had well-matched voices and soon we were harmonizing some old favorites, including the old Crosby, Stills and Nash song Teach Your Children Well. I regret now that I left without recording us at least once! Manfred taught me a few things on the guitar including a basic blues rhythm (where are you, Fred, now that I've got the guitar?!). I was sorry to leave just as our musical partnership was beginning to develop into something quite nice...

Alas, after nearly six weeks in Gokarna, the holy beach town with EVERYTHING - white sand beaches, glorious sunshine, holy water spring, cheap and plentiful fruits and vegetables, a western-style bakery, all the Brahmin Indians and Old Hippies you could hope for and, last but not least, the best-looking cows in all of India - my spectacular holiday finally came to an end. I began to have that "back to school" feeling, the one that comes when the summer is ending and the weather is changing. I finally felt ready to face my responsibilities in Delhi and wanted also to continue my studies in Rishikesh. I reluctantly but dutifully purchased a train ticket to Delhi and prepared myself mentally for my return to the North - the cold, aggressive North. Another epic train journey for another epic date with the FRRO. Oh yeah.

And of course, as my body is wont to do, I developed another head cold and began another round of menstruation in the days before my departure; two things sure to keep the journey interesting. I made sure to stock up on the essentials (paper soaps, tissues and sweets). Our train was scheduled to depart at 2 o'clock in the morning but was two hours late. We slept in the station in Karwar until 4 am when we finally boarded the train like zombies. The first morning I woke up bloated and with a strong headache, and for just a moment, I cried and wished to be home with my mama (everyone has these moments, right?). But the second morning on the train I had more energy and felt in much better spirits. All in all, these sleeper trains aren't so bad.

(Nameless) U.S. Embassy Officials To The Rescue!!

I arrived in Delhi ready to take care of business. The first morning I woke early and headed directly to the U.S. Embassy where I planned to beg for visa assistance. I explained my saga and wrote two pages of narrative for the officials there who promised to "see what they could do." Then I went to see my sadistic friends at the FRRO where I waited five hours for them to locate my file and finally had a sobbing breakdown in an office with five Indian men, causing them all to panic, "please, madam, relax. Please, madam, just sit. Madam, please..."

Just after five o'clock in the afternoon, my mobile rang. On the other end was the sweet voice of an embassy official (they don't give out names) telling me they got what I needed - a faxed confirmation of my entry into India on 13 September 2007 at the Nepali border!! I cried again, this time for joy. But the struggle was not over just yet...the next morning I returned to the embassy to pick up the priceless piece of paper. Then, after a quick visit to the dentist for a cleaning, I went back to the FRRO for another round. Already late in the day, I spent another five hours waiting for them to react to the new information. I waited with baited breath..could this finally be coming to an end? They told me they would process my file and I could (possibly) pick up the new visa the next afternoon. On day three, I returned once again to the FRRO for another roller-coaster of emotional manipulation until finally, at nearly 7pm, the last visa hopeful in the room and one hour after the office was officially closed, I received an official stamp in my passport.

My passport is no longer empty. My battle is won.

But at the moment of victory I was emotionally and financially drained and hardly felt victorious. Alas, I said a final goodbye to the FRRO and returned to my guesthouse, exhausted and relieved and ready to get out of Delhi.

Some days later I am home again here in Ram Jhulla, Rishikesh, relating the events of the last weeks as if through a tunnel. I arrived just today and took a room in the Ved Niketan Ashram. It's quite freezing but I am one seriously happy camper, ready to start yoga tomorrow morning and Swamiji's lectures when he comes back after some days. It's back to school and I am thrilled to be a student at the University of Mother India.

I am exhausted now and must go in search of chai...but there is much more to relate, about love and life and the incredible opportunities offered by Mother India. About God and family and duty and dignity. Truly, the lessons never stop.

with love and appreciation for all of you,

PS: Infections and General Health Update

Remember that scorpion-like centipede that stung me on the arm? After some six days or so, the spot on my arm began to swell and itch. Just thought I'd share 'cause these things are fun.

Oh, and the eye thing...some days it's looking smaller, some days bigger. Some days red and some days not, but basically I have accepted it as part of me now. There's no pain so why worry? It's much better this way...