Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits

Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany

Laughing all the way...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Let's Give it up for the Naked Baba

A critical part of spiritual development is renunciation, or giving stuff up. I started giving stuff up in 2001, starting with my homicidal cat Griselda, my job as a Network Admin and my cute cottage apartment in San Diego. Over the years I gave up other stuff - my car, more jobs, the best relationship I ever had - all in the pursuit of something I couldn't name.

The process of renunciation means you give up your attachments, not only to material possessions but to your loved ones as well. There are many examples of saints and other seekers who left their families, never to look's just part of the process.

But renunciation also extends to concepts and ideas. Now that I have almost nothing of material value left, I've begun to give up my need to be "achieving" something, my desire to settle down and my guilt feelings about neglecting my family. Giving all these things up means you stop trying to control your life - which is an illusion anyway - and instead surrender to God's divine will.

The naked baba is the ultimate example of a true renunciate; not only has he renounced material possessions, he has taken it a step further and renounced his own self-respect. The umbrella is necessary only as a means of protecting his body - the vehicle for the soul - from sickness.

But you don't have to travel to India and walk around naked to start practicing renunciation. You can start by throwing out your television when you get home from work today.

Cry Me a River and Call It Ganga

I used to feel sorry for myself. I perceived many misfortunes...I come from a culture I can't relate to, my family lines are weak or non-existent, I've inherited an ugly legacy of sexual abuse, I have no place to call home, I'm la la, blah blah blah. Are you crying yet?

Of course it all turned out to be the greatest spiritual blessing I could ask for: had I been too comfortable with my circumstances I wouldn't be here now, living it up with the monkeys and cockroaches!

Ahh, the delicious ironies abound..

A Few More Rounds on that Hamster Wheel

During one of our interminable discussions in Chandigarh, Andrew suggested my remarks about the hamster wheel could be considered insensitive to many dedicated workers back home. Workers who are, presumably, on the hamster wheel.

I decided that the problem stems primarily from my choice of words; the term "hamster wheel" makes it sound like a bad thing.

But the fact is it doesn't really matter whether you're running around on the hamster wheel or not. What's more important is your attitude about it. For example, those who derive their self-identity from their work and are only concerned with chasing after money or gaining recognition have the wrong attitude. They're the real hamsters.

On the other hand, those who see the wheel for what it is but keep running because they want to contribute something to society, provide for their families or learn something from their work...they have the right attitude. These people aren't hamsters, they're karma yogis.

Everyone has a different purpose or journey in this life (as expressed in the philosophy of the caste system). The fact that I was able to jump off the wheel and explore a different way of life is - as I mentioned above - a blessing.

For years I used to say that my greatest accomplishment in life was never getting pregnant. It usually came across as a joke but now I understand why it's so true: had I become a mother there is no chance I would be here exploring this alternative way of life now. Out of necessity, I would be somewhere running on the hamster wheel to provide for my munchkins.

So I apologize if I ruffled some hamster fur with my previous comments. The truth is I am deeply grateful to all of you hardworking people for your dedicated efforts. If you were not out there doing your job, we certainly couldn't be here doing ours. So...

"run around again, mad around again!"

with sincerest appreciation,
om shantih om,

PS: Obviously, if I really wanted to insult people, I wouldn't call them hamsters. I'd call them wombats.

Postcards from the Edge

It's nearly five o'clock and I'm sitting on my bed reading "Know About Astrology," my face, neck and chest covered in tiny beads of sweat. The power is out and the late afternoon twilight is rapidly fading away. I am considering whether I will attempt to cook dinner by candlelight or go out for some Indian food when the dark outline of a large mammal darts into my room.

Catching my breath, I tell myself it's a cat when I know it's not. I start screaming when I see its long hairy arm reach out to grab the last pieces of my suji toast from the plate on the table next to me.

I jump up on my bed and continue screaming while I frantically search for something to protect myself, but the beast is unfazed. It turns nonchalantly, waves its big red butt three times in my direction and smugly saunters out with my toast.

. . . . .

This morning, yesterday morning and the morning before that all began in much the same way.

My alarm goes off at 5:30am just before the first morning light. I stagger to the bathroom to pee when I notice a huge cockroach chilling out in the hallway. I grab a plastic flip-flop and prepare to murder it. Once the deed is done, I open the front door and sweep the carcass outside where the ants will congregate for their feast in a matter of minutes.

An hour later I am sitting on the floor in the basement of the main hall at Ved Niketan Ashram where Swamiji leads his morning meditation. Monsoon rains prompt all the little creatures of the world to take refuge and dark basements are prime real estate. Fat cockroaches scurry back and forth around me as I eyeball them nervously; I really want them to die.

But I am sitting in half-lotus, my hands folded in prayer and my thoughts supposedly on God and not on the murder of disgusting cockroaches. It would be unseemly for me to make a scene in the meditation hall. At least they don't bite, I tell myself again and again, stifling the scream at the back of my throat.

. . . . .

When I booked my train ticket for Chandigarh, I didn't stop to consider whether I had a good seat or a bad one because, well, any train ride is better than a bus. But as soon as I squeezed into my spot on a bench with three other Indians, I wished I had splurged on a better ticket. It wasn't long before several men had gathered nearby to get a closer look.

I sat, sweating and miserable and looking out the "window" (an opening with bars) for three hours trying to ignore the men who stood there studying my every move with expressionless faces. When my three-hour journey stretched to three and a half and then four hours, I found it inconceivable that they could still be hovering there. I cursed them under my breath, "don't you ever get tired of staring at me?"

Within minutes we had rolled into our final destination. Windblown and withered, I gathered my bags and prepared to exit the train. But 15 frantically pushing Indians blocked my way and before I knew it I was screaming "let me out!" at the top of my voice as I shoved my way through the glut of bodies.

For a moment I felt that old familiar twinge of panic, the kind I used to have in crowded supermarkets back in San Diego. I haven't had an actual panic attack in years, but if I don't get a break from the most populated place on earth soon, it won't be long before they're back.

. . . . .

I've been sweating for three days. Come to think of it, I've been sweating since April. Yesterday in a rash moment I took the scissors to my hair - for the third time this month - and snipped away, making it finally impossible for the left side of my hair to be pulled back into my trademark hairstyle. Is it the heat?

Was it mama who said the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over, expecting a different result?

. . . . .

T-3 days until I'm in the cleanest, most organized airport in the world..let's hope I'm not bald before I get there.

more soon,

from somewhere in the grey area between spiritual life and mental insanity,


PS: The current surplus of writing is partly due to the fact that I've got a cold and I'm spending an inordinate amount of time in my bed, partly due to the procrastination of my packing duties and partly due to the likelihood that I will not be able to post anything of substance during the next five weeks..

It all came down to the computer or the guitar (GEE-tar), and considering that I'm going to live hippie-style from a VW bus for the next five weeks, the guitar (GEE-tar) was a no-brainer..

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Dear anonymous commenter,

Your excellent questions have restored my faith and purpose in writing this blague! I cannot thank you enough for your kindness. If I had your mailing address I would be delighted to send you a token of my you like Indians?

You inquired;

“As for the tight jeans, isn't that a problem given the modest culture? Aren't you inviting problems and accentuating your western-ness in a negative way? I thought women were supposed to hide their bodies. Why is the store selling such things in a holy city?”

First, let me clarify that I didn't buy my trendy jeans in the holy city of Rishikesh...I bought them in the master-planned community of Chandigarh, a city that cannot be considered the least bit holy as it doesn't have a single holy cow.

Second, I assure you that I wouldn't consider wearing my jeans here in the kesh. I wear salwar suits (traditional Indian dress) about half the time and the other half I wear ankle length skirts, loose-fitting tops and shawls or scarves on my head.

That's why I don't have a pair of jeans here in India, and that's why I needed to buy some. 'Cause next week I'm headed to the uber-civilised E.U. and I'm unlikely to blend in if I'm dressed in my holy - or should I say holey - Indian garb.

Now let me just add that many tourists come to Rishikesh for a few days only and it is not uncommon for these people to wear tank tops and/or jeans. It all comes down to personal preference. I prefer to observe a modest dress code for several reasons: First, because I live here and dressing modestly shows respect for the local culture. Second, because the Indians in turn have more respect for me. And third, because I already get enough attention as it is - staring, questions, photo requests - and I have no desire whatsoever to exacerbate it by displaying more of my body.

You are right that wearing revealing western clothes invites problems, more so for a single woman. Every now and then I'll notice a western woman with her boobs pushed up as if she's part of the buffet table. Once, I stopped in front of a particularly offensive bowl of cleavage and asked the owner incredulously, "what are you thinking?" to which she responded with a blank look. Clearly they have no idea how their actions negatively affect the rest of us.

Of course, just six hours away in the capital city of Delhi, you might as well be in LA.

. . . . .

“Another question I had was about the "caste system." Is this based upon your income or status or how? Also, where do you fit in this scheme, and why?”

Volumes upon volumes have been written about the caste system, but I will only paraphrase from Swami Dharmananda's book the following (grossly simplified) summary;

The ancient sages of India recognized four natural castes, or four natural stages of human evolution: the Shudras (manual laborers), the Vaishyas (businessmen), the Kshatriyas (soldiers and rulers) and the Brahmins (the intellectual and spiritual). Originally, these distinctions were supposed to reflect the innate qualities and abilities of individual people, but at some point in history they became assigned solely on heredity alone, which Swamiji calls "a flaw that has to be removed."

Shudras represent the lowest level of human evolution and are concerned only with satisfying the basic, physical urges for food, shelter and procreation. They are generally satisfied with their lot, lead a routine life with no higher aspirations and accept whatever comes their way as fate or destiny.

Vaishyas are those people who are no longer satisfied with just the basic needs and now desire to enjoy life and its pleasures. "Their motivation is ownership, seeking enjoyment and cultivating the first seeds of wisdom."

Kshatriyas are those people who have discovered that "even after fully satisfying the pleasure sensations, one doesn't experience total satisfaction." They begin to question the purpose and meaning of life and their motivation is to seek power, either externally or internally.

Finally, Brahmins are those who seek only intellectual or spiritual growth. They discard all worldly ambitions, lead a simple life and don't crave for material wealth, sense pleasures, power or self-glorification. They make intellectual, spiritual or artistic growth the sole motivation of life and should be the teachers of society.

. . . . .

The caste system as it currently functions is difficult for many to comprehend or appreciate, probably because it is based on a philosophical abstraction and abstractions rarely reflect the reality of individual human beings. More simply put, most people do not fall neatly into one category alone. And from my personal experience, the system is usually just another opportunity for discrimination.

One's profession is the simplest and most straightforward way to learn someone's caste; for example, a chai walla (tea vendor) is a Shudra. I know this because some of my Brahmin friends were openly disgusted when I told them about my chai walla friend. They advised me that he was probably not an honest or good man because, well, he's just a chai walla. And it's pretty obvious that if someone is sweeping the streets or cleaning the toilets, they belong to the Shudra caste (Note: I've never actually seen anyone clean a toilet in India, but if I did, I would assume they were a Shudra).

All priests are Brahmins but not all Brahmins are priests (Venn Diagram, anyone!?). I know that Brahmins often wear a string diagonally across their chests. I'm sure there are a million ways to identify people by their caste and if I stay a few more years, I'll probably clue in on more of them.

Westerners do not technically belong to any caste, but because of our light skin and relative wealth we are definitely considered upper-class. We are treated with respect and often get special privileges (i.e. moving to the front of any queue, even at the emergency room) because we are foreign and "rich."

As confounded as we are by the Indians, they seem to be equally confounded by us. It's all part of the charm and madness, the love-hate relationship, the eternal failure to communicate.. I may be considered "upper-class," but I cook my own food, clean my own room and wash my own clothes (in a bucket), all things an upper-caste Indian would not likely do. So upper-caste is not the same as upper-class.

Last weekend I visited my friend Andrew, a Kiwi who lives in an English-style manor with a full-time cook and driver. For a few days it was as if we had stepped into an Edith Wharton novel, one of those turn of the century high-class British society dramas I delighted in as a teenager. I lived it up, sipping tea from a cup and saucer while lounging on the sofa under the air-conditioning, trying to decide where the driver should take us next and repeating "a dingo ate my baby" 27 times in my best British/Australian/New Zealand accent. But I digress..

The short answer is that the Indian caste system has two aspects; the beautiful philosophical theory and the current distorted implementation. As it manifests here today, the system is based on birth, is profoundly unjust, and does not apply to foreigners.

In the states we have racism, in Mexico we have class-ism and here we have caste-ism. Looks like everybody has to hate somebody.

. . . . .

“Thank you for sharing your life with us. It is fascinating reading and it takes me away from my "hamster wheel" existence.”

NO, thank you! Your questions give me respite from that dreadfully endless monologue in my head... I mean, do you really need to know details about every single disease I've had in the last year?

And about that hamster wheel…it’s been pointed out to me that my treatment of the subject was inadequate and possibly offensive. I fully intend to revisit the issue, as well as address a few other loose ends, before I officially go off the radar next week.

until then, this is LMA signing out,


Late update:

I’ve just noticed the following, beautifully complimentary explanation of the caste system posted as a comment and would like to reproduce it here:

“The caste system in its true form is recognition of one of the timeless and fundamental realities of life. We are all unique individuals with innumerable differences, yet we are all interconnected and equally important in the grand scheme of things.

There is great beauty in this. Each one of us has unique roles to play and contributions to make. One person may be a teacher, another a soldier, a politician, a factory worker, a spiritual renunciate, a cleaner, a business person. No one contribution is more or less important than another. The true caste system recognises this and gives people the honour and dignity they deserve. We all have a role to play and this role is supported, respected and valued.

Unfortunately, humans being as they are, the caste system has throughout time been abused and distorted into a thing of ugliness. Groups of people have used it to suppress and control other groups of people based solely on a claimed "birthright". (There's nothing new here, we also have racism, sexism...). This is plain and simply wrong.”

Well said! Thank you, A

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Good Times

Amerika, Germany, Japan

February 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Moderately Civilized Weekend

I spent the weekend visiting a friend in Chandigarh, a master-planned city in the state of Punjab. Since the first time I stepped foot in India nearly seven years ago I have been accused of being a Punjabi girl, so in some strange sense I felt I was going home.

Chandigarh is a bit of a parallel universe; with no wandering cows, no mischievous monkeys and no unseemly piles of shit or garbage, the "richest city in the richest state of India" is distinguished with huge tree-lined streets, orderly roundabouts and large green parks.

I took the opportunity to go shopping for that quintessential western necessity: a pair of jeans. I walked into a modern clothing shop, stopped at the counter in the back and asked for women's jeans. The salesman asked me for my size and I responded with a blank look (I'm a "drawstrings and elastic bands" kind of girl here in the Kesh). He grabbed the measuring strip, placed it around my hips and cinched it closed as tight as it would go, announcing "28."

He turned around to survey the wall of folded jeans behind him, selected three or four pairs and, unfolding them on the table in front of me for my approval, declared "these are fresh, madam." They appeared a bit too stylish for my taste, with ornaments and tiny little leg openings, so I told him I wanted something bigger and stretchier. It was his turn to respond with a blank look. I decided to try another shop.

Shoppers in India don't actually participate in the selection process; the salespeople select the items and bring them to the customer for approval. Years ago I found this a maddening affront to my years of dedicated training in the art of shopping. Now I simply sit back, prepared to reject the stream of offensive suggestions (I will never be caught dead in pink) with a stern look and an exasperated sigh.

Just the fact that I have learned how to manage the Indians makes me wonder whether I've become too comfortable in this classist - caste-ist - society..

Tell Me Where Living Starts

I no longer bemoan the fact that I don't have strong ties to my home; Swamiji has made me understand that it is actually something of a spiritual blessing. But I continue to be stumped by the question of where I should go. I realize it's an irrelevant question, but my mind is obsessed.

For years I've dwelt on it. Last year I decided Montreal would be a good "place" to go. Then it was France. Then it was neither of those places. Again this year, the same question.. Like the elusive perfect pair of jeans, I continue to dream of and search for something that simply doesn't exist.

That's why I am so excited about my latest notion: to live on the ocean. I feel at home in the water and the water is everywhere, so why not make it my home? I made a few casual inquiries some months ago and promptly forgot about it. Then yesterday I was shocked when I received an actual offer in my email! Apparently, there is at least one sailboat out there interested in a long-term passenger who can teach English.

I'm not ready to take the plunge just yet (I was on a boat once for three days, seven years ago), but I'm quite captivated by the option. The moral of this story is loud and clear anyway: don't limit yourself with linear thinking. Open up your mind and dream bigger, because everything truly is possible. Believe me, if I can go live on a boat, anyone can!

Speaking of Dreams..

The latest one to materialize is a timeless hippie classic; in less than two weeks I'll be off to Germany to meet my hippie German friend in their VW bus, whereupon we'll be cruising around Switzerland, Holland and Denmark visiting and/or collecting other hippies for a magic bus adventure. Ha haa haah ah hah ah! (Is the phrase "hippie German" an oxymoron?)

Not only that, but for the first time ever I'm actually excited about my 6-hour layover in Bahrain, 'cause I've always wanted to go to the Middle East. And my neighbor Kirananda says it's a great airport!

Keep on dreaming, everyone. You never know what might be lurking around that next corner,

PS: I think the Indians tricked me into buying extremely tight jeans...can someone from the west please confirm whether this is the actual fashion? For some reason I can't remember if I wore tight jeans or not..

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Now That's Love!

It only took 32 years, but someone who isn't my brother has finally told me to shut my mouth! (Lucky for y'all, I don't have to open my mouth to post stuff on this blague...hah hah!)

Seriously, though, what would I do without Swamiji?

The Coffee Made Me Do It

Imagine we're hanging out at Starbucks (TM) and chatting about nothing in particular. That's what this posting is about. It's for those people who are seriously bored at work, people for whom I have great compassion. After all, it was my own devastating boredom at work that led to the birth of this blague four years ago.

Random Observations, Irrelevant Updates and Ridiculously Superfluous Titles

With no significant vices or addictions left to speak of, I've reunited with my old friend, coffee.

I have George to thank for this one. As a teenager I woke up every morning to the strong smell of thick, black strong it tasted like roast beef. I guess he had to make it that strong since he usually spilled about half of it on me in the car.

But here in India milk is holy and it's unheard of to drink coffee or tea without a whole lot of milk. So now I make mine "holy style" with plenty of honey. I justify three or four cups a day by drastically upping my water intake.

Unfortunately, coffee is just not part of the "spiritual method," something I had time to consider as I lay awake in my bed in the wee hours of the morning, my 5:30 alarm fast approaching. Now that I'm back on the meditation wagon, it feels like summer vacation is over and I'm "back to school."

Seems the older I get, the younger I feel. My mama has decided to head out to the Kesh for a visit, to investigate what exactly is going on out here. She'll meet with Swamiji for a parent-teacher conference. Yup, I'm feeling about ten years old right now.

. . . . .

Out of the Woods?

Four months of sickness is officially over, folks. You name it and I probably had it this summer; from the flu to giardia (for the third time) to all kinds of interesting infections (skin, intestinal, vaginal) and something called eosinophilia. Dr. Vishnu wasn't kidding when he said the summertime sees an increase in viral diseases.

But the most devastating infection I had this year was in my chest. I succumbed to severe bronchitis at the end of April but only just finished my last round of antibiotics yesterday. It seems a miracle, but I haven't coughed once in the last five days.

Last week I decided to visit an ayurvedic doctor just to mix things up a bit. He prescribed singing, dancing and massage - it's actually written on the prescription pad - for my "weak pulse." I haven't gotten to the singing and dancing yet, but the massage was first-class.

. . . . .

Regarding that Astrologer...

After I made my appointment with Dr. Amodini, the astrologer across the river, I immediately fell ill with the flu and was forced to cancel. I took this as a sign that it wasn't meant to be and promptly forgot about it.

Ten days later I ran into an old acquaintance who has been practicing astrology for years. He drew up my chart on his computer and together we stared at it for a few hours while he tried to explain some of the finer points. One thing I noticed from looking at my chart is that we could easily spend weeks interpreting it; seems this astrology thing is a lot more complicated than I had previously imagined.

Most of his explanations - about planets and houses and signs and degrees and retrograde movements - went in one ear and out the other. But I was captivated by the cycles he showed me in my chart; it turns out that in 2002, Mars entered my sixth house (or something like that) and will stay there until October 2009. Apparently this is a contradictory position for Mars, indicating a difficult period of negation, frustration, impulsivity and the attraction of aggressive influences around me. In other words, I've essentially been PMS-ing for the last seven years.

Now for the good news: this 7-year cycle ends (approximately) in October, after which Mars will chelo from its troublesome position and I will move into a new, 18-year cycle emphasizing "higher education, spiritual growth and a more practical nature."

Thank God, because I don't think I can take much more of me...

I've now given up on my idea to visit astrologers and instead I've acquired an 800-page book called Know About Astrology. Which should keep me busy enough that you don't hear any more about astrology for a while.

. . . . .

Must-See Movies (in order of superbness):

1) The Painted Veil (Naomi Watts, Edward Norton) - Most superb! Based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, this one is an absolute must-see.

2) Revolutionary Road (Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio) - equally superb, but the ending left me wanting more..

3) The Illusionist (Edward Norton) - decidedly superb.

4) Into the Wild - superb, but perhaps not for everyone.

I confess, the first three are love stories, perhaps more suited to the ladies (I bet mama's glad they gave me this computer, now! Ha haa haaah!)

I've been goofing off long enough's time to get back to my bucket (today is washing day).

Hugs and love and Hari Om!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Anything Goes in Spiritual Disneyland

Last night I spoke with my mama and again our conversation brought up some interesting points. First, it made me realize that I am slowly but surely losing touch with the general perspective back home. That is, the longer I stay here - in this land of absolute madness - the more normal it becomes, and the more difficult it is to remember what is supposed to be weird.

For example, it's quite normal for people here to talk about "energy," invite you for meditation, describe some elaborate fasting procedure, expound on the virtues of drinking your own urine or congratulate you for being sick (it means you're getting better). Pretty much anything goes here in Spiritual Disneyland, a place where you can walk around with underwear on your head and still be taken seriously.

Now let me say that I always intend to be as clear as possible when I write for this blague, but my alternative reality means I don't always realize when something isn't clear.

So I invite and encourage questions! No matter how mundane or silly they might seem, I learn much more from your questions than you do from my answers (yes, there's a selfish motive here). A dialogue is far more interesting than an endless monologue, anyway, and most comments are posted as anonymous, so there is nothing to lose.

. . . . .

Living in a holy city means that God - in all of God's infinite forms - is a constant topic of conversation. In the last two years I have become accustomed to using terms I wouldn't have dreamed of using back in California, such as God and faith. (For the record, the word "faith" entered my vocabulary in the spring of 2005, thanks to my father, and "God" came in the spring of 2007, thanks to Mother Ganga.) I understand if you can't appreciate these words as I didn't appreciate them for most of my life, either. See? I'm not so far away after all...

The Second Birth of Lola: A Brief History

My life can be easily divided into two parts: pre-January 2001 and post-January 2001. My memories from before 2001 are few and vague. When I think back to the person I was, it feels as though I am recalling a character from a movie I've seen and don't remember well. If you ask me why I did certain things or made certain decisions, I simply can't say because I don't remember what was in my head at the time. All I know for sure is that I was deeply depressed and that for many years I wanted to die.

Then, a concurrence of events at the start of 2001 (including a book about quantum mechanics) resulted in my awareness being "switched on," much like a light switch. Quite suddenly and dramatically I became aware of all kinds of things I never cared to notice before, from the beauty of the flowers along the highway to the way the earth and moon revolve around the sun. But the most important thing I became aware of was a very strong faculty of intuition.

I refer to January 2001 as my "second birth" (I could spend weeks writing about this one, but I am way too lazy for that now). The first notable event after my second birth was the passing of mi abuelito - my paternal grandfather - in the spring of 2001. My intuition told me to quit my job and go meet his family in Mexico.

Every major decision I've made since then has been informed by a strong intuition, a "feeling" that doesn't come from my mind. And this is why I thank God for this gift, because my mind is a bit of a cesspool and who knows where I might be now if I was forced to rely on it, maybe dead. Or worse, stuck in some lucrative career somewhere.

I'm aware that it makes no sense whatsoever for me to stay here from a logical, practical perspective. I'm not earning money, I'm not getting any skills to add to my CV, and I'm certainly not relaxing on holiday. The only thing keeping me here is my intuition - my feeling, conviction, whatever you want to call it - that this is where I have to be.

What is It?

In my personal experience, intuition has absolutely nothing to do with logic or the mind, which is why it's a difficult concept to elucidate. I decided to investigate by checking with a couple of dictionaries.

According to the online Cambridge dictionary, intuition is "(knowledge obtained from) an ability to understand or know something immediately without needing to think about it, learn it or discover it by using reason."

And according to the word reference site, intuition is "direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; a keen and quick insight."

When I consulted Swamiji, he offered a metaphor; describing intuition as the "all-knowing faculty of the soul," he told me to imagine the soul as the sun and the mind as the moon. The sun has infinite light that then reflects on the moon, which actually has no light of its own. In other words, the light of intuition - originating in the soul - is reflected on the mind, which then gives it a "logical" interpretation.

This means that everyone - absolutely everyone - has the capacity for intuition. I'm sure I had it before my second birth, but it was so weak compared to my mind that I was unable to perceive it.

It's really not surprising that in our left-brain dominated cultures the concept of intuition seems mysterious and difficult to grasp. It's part of the reason I am giving myself plenty of time here in Spiritual Disneyland; after nearly 30 years of being trained to optimize the left hemisphere of the brain, I really need to develop other skills.

And Now to the Point

My stepfather George has been at the forefront of my heart and mind in the last weeks. He didn't talk much, but when he did it was often to encourage me to be a better quality human being. I honestly can't think of anyone else in my life who did this for me. I guess that makes him my first mentor.

It happens that the more time I spend with Swamiji, my current mentor, the closer I get to George. Especially when Swamiji reminds me that I must not behave as an average woman; that I must behave as a queen. His insistence that I hold myself to a higher standard is exactly what George tried to teach me with his speeches about racehorses and how important it is to keep my word..

In honor of my stepfather and his wise words of inspiration, I finally decided to get back on the meditation wagon. I was nervous that I would be in pain trying to sit properly on the floor for 90 minutes, and I was. But in fact the time passed quickly and afterwards I not only felt a great sense of relief but a peaceful inclination to remain quiet as well.

The first step is always the most difficult, but with the continuing support and encouragement of my mentors I'm confident I will get there. Now I've been back on the wagon for three days and I can't remember what I was waiting for.

Thank you, George, for staying with me and helping me through this...we love you and miss you so much.

Life in the Kesh: Highlights and Lowlights

One side-effect of my recent existential crisis is that my blague has been saturated with endless personal revelations. So I decided to borrow my friend Niko's clever and convenient summary format to re-connect with the daily details here in the Kesh (Thanks, Niko!);


• Two words: Ganga Mataji! (The river, for all you secular peoples.)
• My beloved teacher, a.k.a. my signpost in the desert and the only person who makes any sense to me, Swami Dharmananda.
• The fascinating, improbable or downright kooky characters who come here from all around the world.
• Mangoes for 20 cents!
• Baby monkeys swinging in the trees while I sip chai on the banks of Mother Ganga.
• The guy who walks around offering to clean ears, or to "just check."
• The constant coincidences that make you realize there is no such thing!
• The abandoned, overgrown and magically peaceful Beatles Ashram.
• The city-wide prohibition on meat and alcohol (means I get high just by taking my cough syrup).
• The ayurvedic doctor who prescribed "singing and dancing" for my weak pulse.
• Eastern style toilets...they're cleaner, prevent hemorrhoids, and you can't fall off.
• Majestically surreal monsoon downpours (when I'm not walking around lost in the mountains).


• Crowds of pushing, staring Indians.
• Tiny puppies who rarely survive more than a week.
• Incessant honking from cars, motorcycles, busses and rickshaws.
• The heat, humidity, mold, mosquitoes and regular power outages.
• The frogs and geckoes who shit in my room.
• Indians who shit everywhere.
• The miserable 36-hour power outage that ended in a riot outside my building.
• Being sweaty, itchy and covered in a hundred flies all competing for a place on your open wounds and chai glass.
• The Indians who beat cows and dogs...where is your soul????
• Cows, dogs, and people with missing, broken and/or diseased limbs.
• Walking into a sleeping cow in the black of night and instantly aging seven years.

Score: 12 highlights to 11 lowlights...looks like I'm staying.

Hari Om, until next time..
with affection,

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Book Just Writes Itself

First I must thank all of the lovely people who contacted me after reading my last posting. I was surprised by the outpouring of concern and encouragement from around the world...humbled, even; did my minor existential crisis warrant all the drama? Yes or no, all of your love and support did the job and I'm happy to report that I no longer need to flee the country in desperation.

Quickly after my tortured decision to give up and leave India, I realized I had nowhere to "go back" to. South California is my hometown but there is no place for me there. I don't have a car, I don't have health insurance. Everyone I know is quite stressed and busy keeping up with work and life. A few days visit is wonderful, but much more than that and I am just a burden on my loved ones. Unless I plan to take a proper full-time job and put down roots, it's not really an option for me anymore.

So where did that leave me? My mind cycled through all the options. A flight to anywhere in North America was too expensive - especially without a job at the end of it - and it seems now is not the best time to be looking for work anyway. I have a number of outstanding invitations to Russia, but a visa from the embassy in Delhi takes nearly two months to process, two months I didn't have to spare. Mexico is always calling to me, but again the financial aspect. It seemed there was nowhere I could run away to..

I slipped back into The Hole and for some time I was unable to speak with anyone, just like old times. I was horrified that it could happen, actually, that I could sink so low here in India. My lowest moments have always been limited to California and D.C.

When I was finally able to speak, I went to see Swamiji (my counselor). I sat on his sofa, tears streaming down my face as he helped me understand why I had my breakdown, why I felt so desperate to run away and take a job, and how wrong thinking led me to believe I was immune to depression here in India.

He told me that I could run away if I needed to, but that it would lead to short-term satisfaction only. I considered that for a while (and my intuition told me the same thing, actually) and decided to stick it out, to breathe, to pray for guidance and to redouble my efforts at patience. The next day darkness and desperation were back in full force.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

My guardian angels finally took action and sent an old friend from Quebec to quite literally drag me out of my room and re-socialize me. Christine (a.k.a. "Krishna Babi") introduced me to Laura, a hilarious, high-maintenance firecracker from London and together the three of us laughed our heads off. Three laughing girls are essentially magnets and soon we had acquired a bit of a group, including another Brit, one French, two Israelis and one Ukrainian. In our short time together (one week?) we had a number of adventures including a six-hour hike up the mountain in the monsoon (would have made a great episode of survivor as we alternately "turned against" each other) as well as an ill-fated massage where I watched Laura get molested by her masseuse. But these mishaps only fueled the endless laughter.

The social interaction distracted me from my inner torment and reminded me that I was okay, in spite of all the stresses, expectations, uncertainties..

At some point in this period, Shepherd Dan came back to Rishikesh with his adorable hippie mother, Uschi, who reminds me a bit of my dear grandmother. At the tender age of 22, Shepherd Dan (now known as "Reiki Master Dan") is an evolved soul and ever since we met I had been hoping to meet the woman who made him possible. She is indeed a special lady and has invited me to visit her at their home in Germany.

A day later, I had another invitation to Germany via email. The back-to-back invites prompted me to check for flights, and as if God himself was giving me his personal blessing, I found a return flight to Frankfurt for less than 450 USD. Wait, there's I discovered that my full-power sister-in-law will be in Cologne during this time, so I will also have the opportunity to visit her!

So while I may not be escaping India after all, I will be off to Germany for a much-needed holiday in a clean and ordered environment, the antithesis of my chaotic and filthy India. I will take the opportunity to visit friends, to go swimming and cycling, drink a few beers and cringe at a few sausages. I hear the brown bread is delicious and that Germans love to speak English. And I'll take the opportunity to check out a few work opportunities as well.

And by the middle of October, all should be much calmer and cooler here in my adopted hometown of Rishikesh and I'll be ready to start again with my studies and practice. I don't need to run away anymore, I just need to have a break.

How many times do I have to learn this one, anyway? As I mentioned to my parents, as long as I was desperate to go somewhere, anywhere, there were no options available to me. Then, once I accepted that this is where I live and I was no longer desperate to escape, the planets aligned and paved the way for me to have a break. I had a parallel experience when I was stuck walking with the babas...a magical story actually, that I'll have to share another time. Maybe in the book :)

Battered, Bruised, Incredibly Blessed

Today my auntie had a question for me that I was not sure how to answer. She wanted to know what "bad thing" happened to me that I felt I had to "run away from India and all it represents."

I'd have to say that, looking back at my adventures this summer, I realize now that they were what you might call "hard core." While most travelers here head north to tourist havens like Dharamsala and Manali, where they can escape the heat and relax in comfortable restaurants, I had the inclination to make holy pilgrimages in the most difficult manner possible. With hindsight, I realize now that it was extreme. But it took a bit of a breakdown for me to see it.

Swamiji helped me understand that part of the reason I suddenly began fantasizing about having a proper job in the west (and everything that goes with it, including a job title, money, nice clothes and shoes, an apartment with a comfy bed, washing machine, refrigerator...etc. etc) is because my ego suddenly realized it was not in control anymore and was feeling the need for a boost in the form of external comforts (and status).

That is, five weeks in one set of cheap, dirty clothes, eating random free food, drinking dodgy water, sleeping anywhere and having no hairbrush seemed to have broken my ego. I can now vaguely imagine what it must be like to be homeless.

Swamiji's explanation made a lot of sense to me, partly because when I did have all these things in the past, I actually felt my life was quite pointless. So why would I suddenly fantasize about going back to that now? Especially when I had worked so hard to get out of that life, the life I now refer to as the work-and-consume hamster wheel? Because my ego was hurt; living like a homeless loser turned out to be a devastating blow to my ego.

I'm happy to report that I am not fantasizing about having these things seems my ego was adequately assuaged by a week of laughter and socializing with friends. And now that it feels better, I can listen to my intuition which tells me a few things; first, that running away is generally a bad idea. Second, that even if I have money and nice clothes and respect from others, that eventually the pointlessness of it all will resurface. And third, that even if I am impatient and fearful, I must continue along this path that leads to ??????

So, dear auntie, nothing bad happened to me as you are imagining. It turns out that my very own choice to walk the streets and live like a baba - a homeless person - was a much more difficult experience than my ego was prepared for. I simply went too far, bruised my self-esteem and needed some emergency reassurance.

I think it's quite safe to say that India is many things, but it is not comfortable. And taking into account my own personal fear of mountains (the exact opposite of my "comfort zone"), that I was raised to be something of a princess, and that my very own beloved mama holds creature comforts to be of paramount is no wonder that my summer experiences pushed me over the edge!

. . . . .

This summer is just the latest in a tradition of difficult summers that began in 2002 (the Swiss contingent will recall that one, I'm sure). Before I left to come here, I mentioned to my mama that this year would be a difficult one. And now I know why. But happily, I now have the feeling that big changes are on the horizon - positive changes - and that it is possible this is the last difficult summer I will have to endure for a while.

Thank God for my intuition! Without it, I could never be here doing what I am doing...because, well, what am I doing here?? It's just not clear, now is it? If my intuition didn't tell me that I am 100 percent on the right track, I could never endure this madness, the endless stresses and discomforts, the uncertainty...

But it's enough reflection for today. I apologize for turning this blague into a full-blown diary at times (I imagine that my endless personal revelations must be boring for most), but I actually don't control what comes out of my head.

I assure you there is quite a bit more to this story, that I've actually only peeled back the first layer. But for now all I'll say is thanks to all for so much love in my life!!!!

with greatest appreciation,


...and I'm not even getting to details like the magical layer of fog presently sitting on Mother Ganga, the solar eclipse, Lord Krishna's birthday, the long, torturous nights without electricity, the local people who take care for me, the cows who eat aluminum trays and the million other details of life in a world with constant sensory overload!

Maybe next time.