Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Back in the States. It is comforting to have that "Home" feeling around me again, including all the over-abundance that can come with a home in the USA.

All I can really say is that The Adventure continues. It all ways does. May I go forward with an open Heart and continue to let the Experiences of India unravel inside me, each in their own special way, teaching what only They can.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sensory Explicit

Sweat sticks and drips, sunlight licks everything within reach, salt and sand crawl over my skin and into the sheets. India attacks the senses. Even as a sensual being, I am overwhelmed.
My nose now knows a new language of scents. All things leave their mark. Smells appalling or appealling each make a name for themselves. If I hide my face, the smells and sights find a hidden path inward, leaving an imprint on my mind.
I don't remember the last time I heard silence. Animals wild and tame talk day and night. Insects chatter. Pigs scuttled by like obese rats. Women lay on outdoor beds at midday, their mouths in constant motion. Machines converse, engines rumble and groan, horns blare as if a drive down any dusty road makes them part of a parade. Trains tremble and grunt like elderly men, bodies creaky and decrepid with souls that don't know where to go when they die.
I Listen, Look, Smell and Taste. Each of these four Touch my core. At the end of the day, I'm worn out. My senses are assualted! But endlessly reawakened, ready for more. I don't have to ask, more keeps coming ...
The fruit drips with juice sweeter than hummingbird nectar. Each bite of curry does a risque dance on my tongue. Tang and spice! Crying from the heat, I suck the cool juice of cucumber and coconut. I drink in the warm air, as if it is cool, and savour luke-warm water.
Colors beyond the rainbow meet my eyes at every glance. Balmy nights blow sneaky insects into my room. My skin swells from moist heat. I see smiles and frowns, both with the ability to grab on to my heart and squeeze.
Things live with a determination I have never known before. Gardens grow in patches of soil between railway tracks. Cows moan in the heat. Stray people and animals scrounge in trash for food. Before dying in the streets, people crawl around and beg, barely breathing, yet breathing fiercely all the same. Dogs whimper and convulse, refusing death until the last possible second. The floor of the Earth noticably moves. Life is in every inch of the country. It takes hold of Spirits in a tight grasp, never planning to let go. If I'm not fully alive in my Self I miss an important scene. More- I'm not offered the option to be passive, un-alive. It is not tolerated! I will be slapped, bruttally, on the cheek with reality if I close my eyes or plug my ears. Or some burning itch will gnaw at my heart. So, I must stay completely, enthusiastically alive.
And, I have found, I can settle into alert senses. With patience, I find calm breath in the whirlwind. I appreciate the depth of flavors exposed to me through all the ways that I sense.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spiritual Being on a Human Adventure

I am now enjoying life at the beach. It is wonderful to have no plan each day, to again stay in one spot for as long as we want to, to watch the sun set each night and see the fisherman haul loaded fishing nets up on the shore early each morning. Again, I feel how dramatically environment effects attitude. The rest of the trip has been a lot about maintaining a positive attitude in spite of, (often undesirable), external environments. In this way, once mastered, I can create my own steady internal environment. I'll keep practicing, and for now I'll welcome some ease into my life. But, hanging out on the beach is not really what I want to talk about.

It finally happened. Of course, it was when I had given up wanting it. On top of this, it happened in the midst of a half-assed attempt to let go of a bad attitude. Boarding the Rajdhani Express from Delhi to Mumbai turned out to be a highlight of the trip, and this is the first time a train ride has received such status. It is not because they served us a 3-course dinner on the train, gave us pillows, or supplied mass amounts of tea, though these were all impressive and unexpected. It is because on this train we shared our berth with an Indian female yoga teacher. Sarla, is her name. This name means "straight-forward", and that is exactly how she presents yoga. A tangible, life-enhancing, everyday thing to do and live in.

As I've shared before, I was drawn to India by the path of yoga. I had a desire to practice asana here with a teacher, or teachers that was authentic. My idea of authenticity is apparently different than that of many Indians. I have a need to feel something resonate in my heart from the heart of a teacher. If I don't feel this kind of resonance, I need to have space to practice on my own, a chance to hear my own inner teacher speak to me. The authentic teachers I have had in India have known hundreds of asanas, know yogic scriptures, obviously practiced their whole life and likely for lifetimes, but I felt nothing from their hearts when they taught. The teachers and yogis I have met here also give off the air that they live in constant retreat, rather than engaged in the world. And then there is the quest for money that offers limitless fuel. From these things, I was disappointed, but at the same time reassured that I am my own ultimate teacher. I
stopped looking for yoga classes here, just space to practice on my own, and more than this, different ways to look at living in yoga, taking asanas in the midst of life.

Sarla fits my definition of authenticity, in her own unique way. We talked for a while before either of us discovered the other was a yoga teacher. After only a few minutes of talking with her and her husband Chandra, I was already feeling better and had dropped the negativity, (on this day of the trip I was incredibly homesick, and sick of India altogether), I boarded the train with. What touched me most was Sarla's way of living. Yoga was her life. It did not exist on a mat, it existed in her words, her breath, her heart, the way she opened up to a stranger on a train with pure, genuine kindness. She teaches a class in the upscale part of Mumbai 4 times a week, free of charge, simply because it makes her happy. We spent the following morning practicing pranayama on the train. She taught me things I didn't know and also taught me how to instruct different techniques. We talked about family and travels. We smiled and held hands. I felt I met a dear family member for the first time.

She told her husband that Phillip and I would stay at their home for the night. It is untypical for an Indian woman to tell her husband directly what she wants, but their relationship works this way, and though it was likely an arranged marriage, it appears to be rooted in true love. We stayed at their home in Mumbai, met their family and were treated with great hospitality. Sarla gave us both Neti pots (badly needed in the hazy cities of India!) and booklets she wrote about Pranayama. They feed us healthy, fresh food and let us take showers. These are simple things in life, ones that all American's enjoy daily if they choose to. However, these things are luxurious and never taken for granted in India, or other less-developed countries where half, (my likely accurate guess), of the people live in shacks. We both felt like we were surrounded by family for the first time in over 3 months, and there is really nothing better to cure homesickness than this feeling! That night we slept on the floor with Sarla and Chandra. It was one of the best sleeps I've had in India.

I did not even get to practice asana with Sarla, but of course that is not what yoga is all about. We shared deep yoga through open hearts. And an open heart can exist in any pose, anywhere, any time.

Before coming to India I imagined myself on this great spiritual adventure. Indeed, it has been a spiritual adventure, because the spiritual and human self coexist as one. However, it has been a grander adventure for the human self. I have learned so much about the human side of me, and about humanity over all. This is a country where spirituality is so intricately woven with daily life, that it may go unnoticed to those living here while being strikingly curious to foreigners. One's human position in life, according to Hinduism and Buddhism, is a direct result of one's Karma. This allows one to settle with what is. Contentment with one's life situation is an admirable characteristic, while apathy is the opposite. There is also a tendency for me to believe all my wholly-human mental fluctuations will cease upon changing my external surroundings. This is not the case at all. I've heard it said that "Where ever you go, there you are", and this is always the case. I brought my whole self to India, therefor, no matter what or where the adventure is, I still am only Lis.

So, while this has been a time of connection spiritually with the Universe, it has been at least equally if not more so, a time of connecting to my human self - desires, worries, experiencing a different way to live with awareness and opening to different ways that other human beings live. I see the big picture more clearly. I see that Grace moves, and does so with out separating right from wrong, bad from good, disgusting from beautiful. It has been necessary for me to cultivate this kind of vision, where I can discriminate what I want verses what I don't want included in my life, with out seeing any separation between the two. It's seeing the microcosm within the macrocosm and vice versa, with no dividing lines. Phew.

Yesterday, on the beach I thought of the "umbrella" lessons of our trip to India. I can't, and won't pin down just one thing I've learned from this time; Instead I'd rather stay open and let the lessons continue to reveal themselves in curious ways. I will share this idea though, and I think it is true for both Phillip and me: This trip is grossly about not planning anything, desperately trying to not expect anything, and always, always being surprised.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Question: What do people sell in India, you may ask?


next question: Where do vendors sell their goods and services?


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Peace in Punjab

We've been on the move, and aside from some REALLY uncomfortable bus rides, it feels great. In the beginning of our time in India, traveling around was challenging. India was just so thick, overwhelmingly layered. Now, I feel more capable of navigating her layers. This feeling of capability is necessary because India is Non-stop!

We enjoyed a beautiful week in Manali full of snow and long walks. Some highlights are morning tea and paranthas with the village women of Old Manali, long walks through the snow along the Beas River, hanging out with Till and Lisa from Germany, and going to the hot springs inside the Manu temple of Vashist. It was peacefull and endlessly beautiful. The whole place is surrounded by icey peaks of the Himalayas poking up at the clouds. Manali kept us longer than we expected, but if this trip is about anything, it is about letting go of expectations over and over and over again.

After one week we moved on to the Himachal Pradesh capital, Shimla and from there to Chandigarh. After much persistance at the airport in Chandigarh, (which I will tell you has no pay phones, no atm, and the customer service is the opposite of what you'd expect from "customer service"... but again, letting go of expectations ..), we got new plane tickets made for April 8th. I'll appear in NC with the flowers and showers of Spring!

On the train down the mountains from Shimla I decided that we needed to visit the Golden Temple of Amritsar. I hadn't planned to go here, but it was just calling me clearly and could not be avoided. The temple is a sort of Mecca for Sikhs and is the home of their holy book. We took a bus from Chandigarh and it was more than worth it. Upon first glance of the Golden Temple I was struck by the immense beauty held in the entire temple grounds. I can best describe the experience, that is truly beyond words and photography, by offering some writing I did while I was there.

"We walk in, shoes off, bathing our feet in a small pool of water. Our heads are covered with scarves. The grounds of the complex are cool, smooth marble. I feel grounded and levetating at the same time, and this is just how the temple appears, hovering on top of the pool of AmritSar, the nectar-pool of immortality. The reflection of the Golden Temple shimmers like glitter in the water. Taking my eyes up to meet the actual building reveals an unwavering, majestic, staunch building- the beauty of the reflection amplified by thousands. I see a hundred pigeons flying to rest on the inverted lotus roof.
The sounds filling the temple are what touch me most. There is continuous live Kirtan, day and night, performed inside and transmitted clearly on Bose speakers surrounding the whole complex. I awake at 5 am to this sound and go to sleep to this sound. I saw it created before my eyes last night, and felt as though my heart was bathing in cleansing, warm water - at once I was relaxed and excited. Now I sit at the marble edge of the pool and am surrounded by chants and music. Of course, Phillip is enthralled by the sound system that carries the Kirtan so clearly to all corners of the temple.
Inside the temple 2 Sikh men perform the chanting and play on golden harmoniums. Another man plays tablas. Women sit on one side and men on another mediating to the music. Another Sikh fans the holy book with a long feather. On the second floor the holy book is kept in a special section and Sikh men take 1 hour shifts of reciting the text. This is done continuously and takes 48 hours to read the whole thing, then the cycle starts over.
The atmosphere of the temple is all about equality. There are 4 entrances, implying that God can enter from all directions, as well as all people regardless of caste, religion and nationality. Rooms and food are given for free to anyone who comes here. When you eat in the free kitchen thousands of people at a time sit on the floor together sharing food. "There is one God: True is his name and Creative his personality" is a chant sung in Kirtan. I was told the first lines of the Sikh holy book are "One God. God's name is True. God is everywhere". This is a spirituality that permeates everything. I love this religion of equality."

This experience has touched me deeply and may remain the highlight of the trip. The beauty of the temple is genuine, something I have not found to be true at other "sacred" places on this trip. I was also pleasantly surprised by the sincere help and friendship offered to us by the Punjabis there and in Chandigarh. I think it is the most friendly state we have been to so far. We must give a big shout-out to Mr. Narinder Singh, an elderly Sikh man, who, among so many other feats, saved us from hostile beggars and offered us refuge in the form of tea in a treadmill showroom. He offers a kind "Hello" to Lis's pepaw, Jimmy Peacock, aka Mr. Feathers.

Now, we are in Rishikesh and enjoying life at the banks of the Ganges River. The breeze is cooling and the sun is hot, allways a complimentary couple.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

movin' on

We celebrated Losar today with our students and friends at L.I.T. We shared tea, stories and laughter. Songpo showed us the traditions of the Losar alter. The we all shared a delicious meal of goat and radish soup, pak, (roasted barley flour that you mix with a little tea and make a ball in your hand, then eat it), and an assortment of Tibetan sweets. After the food, Songpo and Shakya presented Phillip and I with Katas, a white silk scarf that is given to people at a time of departure. It symbolizes good luck and success for the upcoming journey. We all shared mutual thanks. It was wonderful to be included in their Losar festivities, and to be honored in this goodbye ceremony. Each student has touched me in a special way and I will continue to hold them all in my heart. They all said repeatedly they would pray for Phllip and I, and we said that we would also be praying for them and the whole school of L.I.T.

I thought I'd give you guys a little snapshot of our plans for the next month. The rail tickets have been bought, but otherwise we will still keep things flexible and go where we feel called with in our ability.

First, we hit the road tomorrow at 6am heading to Rewalsar, via Mandi. From there, we will head to Manali, where we will likely be met by snow showers. We will stay for a few days and hopefully enjoy the hot springs there! Then, it is time to head south. Upon arriving in India, the heat drove me north; Now, I feel ready for some warmer temperatures! We will go to Shimla, take the Viceroy "toy train", which is supposed to be incredibly scenic, down the mountains to Kalka, where we can catch a bus to Chandigarh. We have one mission in Chandigarh - go to the airport and change our tickets home for sometime in late March. When this is accomplished, we will take a bus ride to Dehra Dun where I want to check out Vandana Shiva's farm-school and seed bank, Navdanya. Then, to Haridwar for Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of people for a religious purpose in the world, (so I've heard). We have a train ride from Haridwar to Varanasi on March 1st. We will stay in "the city older than time" until March 5th, then take a train to Delhi. We will stay in Delhi until the 9th, then take a train to Mumbai. From Mumbai, we are goin' to the beach! Oh yes! We plan to travel down the Konkan coast to Gokarna, in Karnataka state, but may make some stops in Goa along the way. Then back to Mumbai on March 18th and flying home sometime soon from there.

Of course I will share the details along the way, but I thought some of you (Merry, Mac, Eddie and Susie in particular) might enjoy seeing our planned destination written out in this timeline. You can follow us on the map if you want!

It will be interesting to travel again, since we have been so grounded in the Dharamsala area since Christmas Eve. And Dharamsala has been good to us! Now, I feel ready to move on and we are both excited about the places we will visit. We came to India to travel, then wanted to be in a stable location so we created that, and now feel ready to be travelers. So! May the roads and rails be kind!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

clean clothes are good travel buddies

Today, we did laundry in the river at Bhagsu, the way the Indian and Tibetan folks do it. It was a beautiful day! We hit the river at 10 am to utilize the morning and noon sunshine for drying. We had our pick of spots to wash, as it is the day before Losar, Tibetan New Year, so many people have taken the day off. By the time we were done scrubbing and rinsing, 11 other Tibetans had showed up to join in the washing fun. There were mountain goats romping around the rocks too, grazing on grass and bushes. An Indian woman was herding them down from the mountains to get fresh water and food by the river. She carried her knitting with her while she watched the goats. Oh, it was a great morning! It is so satisfying to hand scrub clothes and wring them out to dry in the sun. Then, we each picked a rock for medition, and just soaked up the sun on our faces while the clothes dried.

Tomorrow is our last day here in Mcleodganj. We have been around the Dharamsala area for 7 weeks now, but the road and rail are calling us to move on. We will celebrate Losar and say goodbye to some Tibetan friends tomorrow afternoon, and go to the temple in the morning to see the festivities there.

I am excited to hear that Obama is meeting with the Dalai Lama on February 18th. I think it is so important for the US to at least have a friendly relationship with the Dalai Lama and be accepting of Tibetans. We are a country full of people who believe in human rights; the situation in Tibet right now shows a complete disregard for human rights. I have asked my Tibetan friends what the most beneficial thing foreigners can do to help Tibet, and the answer is consistently to Talk about Tibet. I have a big mouth, and I will try to use it in a positive way.

I feel that before I head out of Mcleodganj I should share some things I have learned about the "situation", though I think it is better named a holocaust because of the mass demolition of people, buildings, rivers, land and the human spirit, that is happening in Tibet. I have only been learning about Tibet for a couple months, so my word is in no way the last word. I just want to pass along some facts with the hope that thoughts and discussion about Tibet can begin. Horrifying things happen to people all over the world, but this is a situation, a holocaust, a destruction of a way of life that has touched me personally.

For 60 years now the Chinese have occupied Tibet. Previous to this, Tibet was an unquestioned, autonomous region. Since the Chinese occupation, thousands of monasteries have been destroyed in Tibet. People who have been nomads their entire lives have been forced off the wild lands and into cities, where there is often no work. Now under Chinese rule, Tibetans are forced to abide by the population control law and many women are forced to undergo sterilization. Of course, those who speak out against a communist government are brutally punished or even killed, and if Tibetans are seen speaking to foreigners (there are cameras everywhere in the cities) they are immediatley brought into police custody for intense interrogation. The torture and lack of rights in Tibet is so horrible, that thousands of Tibetans are choosing to make the life-threatening journey across the Himalayas, through Nepal, and into India where they can seek exile. Many people loose limbs or their lives trying to escape, but the risks are worth it. In exile, they are faced with many difficulties, particularly concerning residency, jobs, and education, but they get to enjoy two great freedoms of democracy: freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

My friend Ludup has done a lot of writing about the importance of preserving Tibet's land and how the health of Tibet's environment directly effects the health of the world. He has taught me many things about the enviromental issues of Tibet; many issues are brought on by global warming, but also are rapidly accelerated by Chinese occupation. The land that has been claimed by the chinese has been deforested and heavily mined. China is using Tibet as a nuclear wasteland where they can test nuclear weapons and also dump the waste of nuclear weapons here. Tibet has been considered to hold the mostsignificant natural resources of forests, salt, minerals and water in the world. Obviously, this kind of waste heavily intoxicates the many great rivers and lakes of Tibet. It is interesting that China is carelessly contaminating the rivers that flow from Tibet into China, India and other South East Asia countries because these rivers provide their country with water. Ludup told me the production of energy for 47% of the world's population, produced mainly in India and China, is dependent on these rivers. Because of pollution and damming, some of these great rivers, like the Yellow River are actually drying up. Many other terrors are playing in the environment of "the roof of the world", a nickname for Tibet, like melting glaciers caused by global warming, but an important thing to see is that the enviromental destruction is not caused by Tibetans themselves. It is the chinese and their lack of enviromental and human rights policies that is causing this devastation to Tibetan land.

I saw a documentary the other night called "Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama". In it, the Dalai Lama said how he does not want people in the world to boycott China or be angry and vengeful. Instead, he emphasized his belief that communication is the best way to create change. He is adament that non-violence is the way to maintain, or in this case reestablish peace, even though some tibetans are begining to have disbelief in this method.

-Bear with me for a tangent- No other country uses this practice of non-violence to get what one wants. The Dalai Lama is a strong advocate for it, because, I think, he knows every action is connected to a greater action. If one is violent to others, they ultimately cause the most harm to themselves by turmoil in one's own mind. If I am angry, I cause much more stress to myself than I ever could to the situation that apparently caused my anger. This is why the path of non-violence is so important. Even if one's outward goal (say, autonomous rule in Tibet) is not achieved, one's mind has remained clear and at peace through active practice of non-violence in thought and action. And no matter what happens in life we are always living with our mind! This is a very important practice, and I find it so cool that it is a deep part of Tibetan culture.

The Dalai Lama has stated that he does not expect freedom from Chinese rule, but just wants the freedom for Tibetans to study and worship as they please, and maintain their traditional way of life. His attempts to communicate with China have been repeatedly turned down. This is where the dire importance of pressure on China from other nations comes in. Never before in history has a Dalai Lama sought so much communication with the leaders of other nations. But this is an interesting time, his people do not have their own country, and the Tibetans still living there continue to be violently persecuted, even when they respond consistently with non-violence. He needs to be friends with other nations, and needs their support for his people and their rights. So! I am happy to hear that Obama will meet him at the White House on Thursday.

I find it ironic that in an attempt to crush Tibetan culture, China has pushed Tibetans out into the world where they are actually more free to share their culture than ever before. This is the magic of a changing world. Their struggles are horrifying, but now we all are able to learn from them and know their gifts too.

If you want to know more about Tibet check out www.studentsforafreetibet.org or just google it in anyway you like since, thankfully, google does not filter our searches as is happening in China!

We will enjoy tonight with a Tibetan meal. It is like Christmas Eve in the US here tonight ... every where is closing early, or took the whole day off to prepare for Losar. I am happy to see everyone giving themselves a break.