Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits

Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany

Laughing all the way...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What Day Is It Today, Anyway?

Rishikesh is really having it's way with me. Last days have been a wave. And before that was another wave. But usually I can't see the wave until it has already washed over me.

This morning in swamiji's meditation, as soon as he said "join your hands," I was in tears. Seems to be coming more often lately, the tears. I am reminded of my birthday last year in Montreal, when I cried for three consecutive days. But that time I had a very specific reason for my sadness.

The sadness that washes over me now is not associated with any particular thing, as far as I am aware. And it's not a problem, per se, just intense.

The first wave was characterized by a complete lack of energy. Several times I laid down on the bed for just a moment, only to end up dead to the world for hours. I even passed out on the couch at a friend's house during a visit, drooling all over myself and waking up with deep lines on my face and chest.

I also noticed that while I normally bear the Indian masses quite well, I suddenly wanted to strangle them all, especially the men. Whether they were staring at me, asking for a photo (No), bumping into me or running me over with their cart/bicycle/motorcycle, I felt an uncharacteristic aggression brewing inside. For the health and safety of all, I hid myself in my room and during two days I did not emerge. I now suspect the increasing heat was a contributing factor.

But now a new wave is here - a wave of sadness - and while my energy levels have recovered somewhat, I am still spending most of my time in my room, emerging only once or twice in each day.

Some benefits of my recent waves include: more writing! I am writing letters, writing in my journal, writing for you right now, writing, writing, writing. Also I am not vocalizing much; It's both strange and strangely pleasing to not hear myself talk. And, my room is cleaner and cleaner every day. Almost every part of it has finally gotten a thorough scrubbing, with the exception of the kitchen floor.

Which brings me to my current dilemma, also known as Buddha. For weeks now I have debated about Buddha. He lives in my kitchen and is the reason the floor has not yet been properly cleaned. For the most part I was accepting him as part of my little ecosystem here, that is, until someone explained to me that mice pee everywhere and that this is frequently how diseases are spread. This new fear was planted in my mind several weeks ago and now I am quite sure I want Buddha to move out. I have threatened to take him to the Beatles Ashram, to befriend a cat, to take away his little box house...but he is not a stupid mouse. He knows I am powerless to do anything. Except clean up mouse poops.

Sometimes, like now, I just want someone to come and "fix it," but I suspect this battle was over before it began. Buddha is here to stay and I will just have to start producing some new antibodies. But I am not happy about it at all.

Something I am extremely happy about is that on this, my third visit to India, I have finally and completely eradicated toilet paper from my life. The struggle has been a progressive one. Initially, I had just to absorb the idea (What? Poop without toilet paper?!?), then I had to learn the basic mechanics (thanks to a kind woman from New Zealand), and then I had to practice. For years I went back and forth, sometimes using, sometimes not...but generally if I had access to it, I was using it.

But this year when I arrived in Delhi, the transition was complete. I have not used nor had the desire to use even one single square of toilet paper since then! This, my fellow consumers, is true freedom. Now that I have accustomed myself to water and have some skill in employing its use, I understand why it is much cleaner than paper. Other necessities that are no longer necessities: hair conditioner, gel, deodorant, ibuprofen, and feminine products (ladies, please do everyone a favor and google "moon cup").

Watching the Hills Burn

As I sit on my balcony and watch the hills on the other side of the river burn for the third consecutive day, I'm thinking about what it means to have a "problem."

That is, my struggles are completely internal. And I understand that most of my afflictions are of a classic western variety, that is, common to most western peoples. For example, I often feel that I am not "accomplishing" enough. I also struggle at times with guilt, or with not being focused or grounded. And of course, I am deeply conflicted between west and east, having been raised and programmed in one world and having found my home in the other...each of them simultaneously alien and familiar.

Left unchecked, internal struggles can lead to a pointless and tragic self-inflicted demise. Sad indeed.

On the bright side, it can (and should be) considered a great priviledge to suffer from internal struggles. I often wonder what the internal struggles might be for, as an example, any one of the crippled beggars who live in the streets. Surely they are not worried about being good enough?

From my glass tower, I am unable to fathom many things. Just today I explained to one Indian girlfriend that, for women in the United States, it is not necessary to ask permission from their husbands. I went on to say that in American culture, it is not uncommon for the men to ask permission from their wives. She looked at me with wide, uncomprehending eyes as we both absorbed the meaning of my words.

A young, married Indian woman officially belongs to and is ruled by her new husband and his family. She must ask permission from them for anything and everything she may want to do. The lucky ones marry into kind or generous families, but the unlucky ones...they suffer a private hell that makes my years in the hole seem like Disneyland.

There are innumerable things here in India...things I see with my own eyes everyday and yet still shudder to imagine. Living here makes it impossible to take anything for granted.

Hari Om,

"Passion, anger and greed - these constitute the triple gate to hell leading to the damnation of the soul. Therefore, one should shake off all these three."
- Bhagavad Gita 16/21

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dirty is Irrelevant When You are Divine

I love buckets! Everyone should have at least three.

Growing Toy Collection (the one on the right is a Fendar)

Typical scenery in Ram Jhulla: cows and burning trash (on one of my favorite streets).

The Cow that Ate my Ball.

Holi Carl takes his Indian Right of Passage (Giardia!) with equanimity. Congratulations, Carl!

Another rare glimpse of holi coloured peoples.

Goodbye dear company..see you next season! (Local ambassabors from L to R representing: Italia, Russia, Norway, Siberia, Japan)

Perhaps I need not state the obvious, that writing has not been at the forefront these days. Even my own words irritate me now. But after two months, I feel the need to communicate something. Let's see what emerges.

Rishikesh is same, but I have changed. Upon arrival I was plunged into an all-consuming process of synthesis. Some things were instantly clear while other things emerged over time.

Looking over the last year in California and Montréal, I see that I expended a lot of energy worrying about finding and making my place - somewhere - where I could "settle down." I had correctly identified this as a priority need, but I was limited in my conception; So focused I was on preconceived ideas about “settling down” that I never once considered that my place could be right here in Ram Jhulla. This mistake evaporated as soon as I arrived.

Last week I finally left Ved Niketan Ashram and moved to a new room at the other end of Ram Jhulla. The deciding factor was no surprise really…it was the kitchen. I have always held that a proper home starts with a pleasant and comfortable kitchen, and if I am going to settle down, this is the first step. Now, for the first time since I left D.C. in 2006, I once again have my own place with my own kitchen. And a deep sense of relief.

I may be a gypsy, but I am also a Southern California princess. In my hometown at least, Comfort is King. My own mama taught me well in this regard. And while India is far from comfortable, I have a newfound desire to be comfortable in my room. After all, my room is my refuge.

My room is also refuge for one mouse named Buddha. Buddha is anything but shantih, digging around in my kitchen and closet, nibbling and scratching and visiting me when I am relaxing on the floor in my room. I would like very much for Buddha to move out and have given him innumerable verbal warnings to no effect. Other regulars include one small frog living behind the toilet and one gecko.

And now, I must let my mama know that I am the current possessor of many many pillows. All thanks to my Russian company (a.k.a. part of my team of guardian angels) who recently left Rishikesh and bestowed upon me all the necessary accoutrements for a comfortable home. Once again, I have everything I need…

And truly there is nothing I need to do. If I just sit and be patient, everything I need comes automatically to me. If something does not come to me, then I didn’t need it. This maxim repeatedly reaffirms itself in my life.

And as if it isn’t enough, Mother Ganga flows placidly by just 100 metres from my balcony. As the temperatures creep higher and higher, Ganga’s frigid currents are my salvation. Gazing at her banks, I can watch cows frolick on the beach, tourists and babas taking holy Ganga bath, girls selling flowers for puja... What more could a girl ask for?

A Most Welcome Welcome
From the moment I stepped off the train in Haridwar on 13 February, I had a bright smile on my face. It had been my luck–although there is no such thing as luck here in India–to meet a regular from Rishkikesh at the Delhi train station. Fareed is the Iranian George Clooney, and I have many memories of his penchant for finely-tuned health regimens. On the bus ride to Rishikesh, he insisted that I share his fruits and crunchy green spirulina. It felt good to be home.

In the days after my arrival, I was warmly greeted by familiar faces everywhere. On my second day, I was attempting to mount the back of a friend’s bicycle when I lost my balance and rolled–slow motion style–right off the back, making a series of awkward screams to the great amusement of the Indian men standing all around. In an instant, Manoj, an Indian man who swam with us in Ganga every day last year, appeared from nowhere and scooped me up from the ground as if I was a paper doll. I took it as another clear sign that I was indeed home, and blessed to be surrounded by good people who are looking after me.

The M Word
Last year I was overwhelmed, but this year I have some perspective. My new, undisputed priority is to sit regularly in meditation. It doesn't matter if I sit half an hour or two, if it's difficult or if there is pain. At this time I am concerned only about regularity.

While I sit, I watch my mind do its thing, and I breathe. Sitting is an easy way to go inside, if that’s what you want to do.

There are many ideas and expectations about what meditation is and how it should be, that you should focus on your breath, that you should not think too much, that you will experience some grand enlightenment. These things interest me not.

I am a spiritual toddler and I have age appropriate goals. I aim only to sit regularly, and sit still. It is a direct command from the Bible: be still and know that I am God. Meditation means you sit still and put your awareness on God.

Last year this was an overwhelming task for me, so instead I focused on practicing yogasana. But this year I have progressed. The yogasana has prepared my body to sit comfortably for one hour (I haven’t yet attempted more than one hour at a time). Some days my mind is very busy and sometimes it’s less busy. Some days I have pain and numbness, other days nothing. Occasionally I become emotional and the tears flow like Mama Ganga. Most times I am very relaxed afterwards, with little desire to talk.

I have no specific expectations for my meditation. I view only it as a new permanent habit in my life. One of the pillars that will finally ground my spirit, whichever place I ultimately land.

Food is God
Another pillar I have identified is cooking. Ancient Indian tradition (Ayurveda) says food is medicine - food is God - and proper prepartion and consumption is a serious matter. The French also take their food seriously, akin to religious ritual, and I’m sure there are numerous other traditions that elevate food and it’s preparation to sacred status.

Weight loss is a common problem here, especially in the summer months, but this year I find that cooking is the perfect solution; a meal made of fresh ingredients and prepared with love and care is always appetizing. I now think of preparing my own food as more than just an option; It’s an essential component of quality life, a prerequisite for physical and spiritual health, and a new, permanent habit in my life…

Luckily, it is something I also enjoy immensely. I like to sing while I work and to have at least five colors in every meal. Today I had white, purple, red, green, and orange. Mmmmmmm. Tomorrow it’s beetroots with paneer, rice and salad.

A Day In The Life
Today as I walked home from Ravi’s chai shop, I was eyed by two monkeys and chased by one cow who had all watched me buy vegetables from the subjiwalla just moments before and knew I was a good prospect. But I outran them all.

Monkeys working in tandem stole my tomatoes one afternoon, though I was carrying much more. I like to think I have monkey skills but this day I was caught off-guard. I squealed awkwardly and struggled with the monkey for my bag, which immediately ripped apart. In the end I managed to salvage half of my tomatoes.

I bought a bamboo walking stick in Laxman Jhulla and went walking in the mountains a few times before the heat arrived, preferring one beautiful path up to Kunjapuri Temple. One afternoon I was cornered by three huge cows (bulls?), all of them with large horns. One was particularly aggressive, stomping it’s feet and actively pursuing me along the path. I tried to intimidate them with my stick, but they were unfazed, so I took refuge by crawling into the bushes. There were no people around and I was truly frightened, but in the end I squeaked past them and ran away unmolested.

January 2010 is the greatly anticipated Kumba Mela Festival. I don’t know much about it except that it is significant. It sounds like a huge baba convention, with sadhus and holy men gathering from around the world once every 12 years here in the holy city of Haridwar, about one hour from Rishikesh.

Sounded fine to me until I realized what it meant for my beloved Ram Jhulla; the entire city is torn apart for re-construction. The main market runs along the riverbank, but the ghats that were there last year have become a mass of rocks and sand while construction of new, bigger platforms and steps is underway. No spot has been left untouched, all in preparation for Kumba Mela.

Unfortunately, this means the already high noise and pollution levels are now higher. Worse, with all the outside workers brought into town and sleeping in camps along the main road, I no longer feel so safe walking home in the evenings. Our community is a small one, but the presence of outside peoples - many of whom are unaccustomed to seeing western women – has changed the dynamic. Today I will replace my stick, which disappeared when I left the ashram. I am sure I will feel more confident at night when I carry my stick.

Certainly, a woman walking alone attracts a lot of unwelcome attention, especially at night. This is true of most places, really. When I moved to Holtville, California, back in 2003, a local woman who learned I was not married advised me to get a dog. If you are a single woman here in Ram Jhulla, I advise you to carry a stick. It’s not a violent place at all, but violence does happen and I am learning to be more aware of these things.

SO Ram Jhulla, as everywhere else, is changing. Already it is a spiritual spectacle, and in time it will be like most other touristic places; expensive and overly-crowded. I accept it as the natural progression of things, but will miss the small-time magic of Ram Jhulla when it is gone..

Did I Mention How Much I Love the Cows?
This year we discovered juggling as a form of concentration training (dhyana). I was a near-immediate addict and went early to the local tailor so he could make me a set for practicing. I chose the cloth and helped him measure and cut the pieces, then he sewed them together. We added dried yellow mutter (peas), sewed them up and – voila! – I had balls for juggling. I spent hours upon hours juggling away, and was juggling at the chai shop one morning when one cow became interested in my balls. We didn’t pay too much attention and continued to play. Everything was fine until I dropped a ball and before we knew what happened, the cow had swallowed it whole. One baba went after the cow, but the ball was long gone. We were first shocked, and then we laughed. Ten people in and around the chai shop, laughing on and on, spurred by the inanity of the situation. It makes me smile to know that for the rest of my life, I will have occasion to laugh again and say, “Do you remember when the cow ate my ball?”

Ya Basta! Ya Pashla..
I can never convey the magical nature of this special community in words, and feel that I will not try now. I will say only that it is a small community of special people from all over the world, and all over India, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to make it my home.

All my love and wishes for peace,
Hari Om!