An Adventure in Being

img_3888

I’m not in it for the adventure.

Travel seems to be at the top of all the lists these days. It is always at the top of mine and always on my mind.

But it is not always adventure I am seeking.

I have no need to prove anything to anyone or myself. I’m beyond the stage when I need to walk a literal precipice to show that I can. Or to get my adrenaline pumping by jumping off a bridge tethered to a rope. I’m at that stage where I want deep experiences, rich soul-shining experiences.

I want to walk. A lot. All over. I want to consciously wander.

I want to sit in front of swamis, gurus, comedians, authors and even charlatans. I want to wander the streets of vibrant cities, take public transportation and interrogate locals on their favorite places to eat.

I want to sit in nature in a foreign country and remark – to myself – how nature is nature and no matter where in nature I find myself it’s healing. Nature has its own universal language.

I want to sit on rooftops sipping chai, coffee, wine, ouzo.

These are my adventures. Being in other places. Being wherever I am. Being. Observing. Noticing. Absorbing.

These are the adventures I want to share. I want to take others to all the magical corners of the planet and allow them to be. To notice. To create their own shift.

It really doesn’t matter where. The park 2 miles from my home can be as impactful as meditating on the banks of the Ganges. Probably. Although there is something mighty powerful about the Ganga Ma.

It’s not about accumulating. It’s not about becoming an experience junky. It is simply about immersion in this great adventure called life.

Our next adventure is coming fast – Rishikesh, India for 10 days in March. If India is calling, take a look at the details here. It’s an intentionally small group of soulful travelers.

Care to join me for a cup of chai on a rooftop overlooking the Taj Mahal?

Ganga Ma

Each morning, we walk the short distance to the banks of the Ganges to sit in meditation for nearly an hour. Along the way we pass the sleeping shirtless man, in his makeshift permanent tent, with his dogs; an open manhole cover; and a giant mama pig rooting for breakfast as her pile of 5 babies sleeps protected beneath the dusty bushes.

There is a tender breeze that becomes gustier as we ascend the steps up to the promenade, then even more pronounced as we cross it to descend down the other side toward the water. We are seated 9 steps up from the Ganga Ma – the mother Ganges. Before arranging ourselves to sit, we carefully take the steps that lead into the water to receive her blessing. Bending into a squat we each begin to create our own rituals. Mine is to place my right hand into the cold rushing water, to feel it, experience it, then scoop enough water to wash both hands, finally placing my fingertips on my forehead, as if to begin my day and my mediation with a clear mind.

What others do is unknown to me, we are each in our own space.

I am drawn in by this ritual. Seated meditation does not come naturally to me, but I have learned it is the process, and the eventual progress, not the perfection of the practice that is the work.

The air is chilly and each gust of wind whips at the scarf covering my head.

I open my eyes. A lot. It’s part of the process for me. The huge ashram across the river, the Parmarth, is hosting the International Yoga Festival starting in the next day or so. It is glowing with preparation. To its left is the Ram Jhula bridge, lit with strands of green, white and red lights. And to its left, a few lights diminish into nothingness. The mountains rise up behind all of it – tiny lights high in the hills could easily be mistaken for stars.

The light cast from the promenade behind us illuminates the rocks in the river that split the water creating eddies and ripples. There is great power in the speed of its flow.  The sound mesmerizing. Swami Divyananda had said, “Sitting on the banks of the Ganges and meditating is like absorbing the prana (life force) of the river herself.” I agree.

Directly in front of me, close to the steps, there is a rock that catches the water and throws it onto the bottom step. I use this as my focus for meditation.

Time passes slowly. People are walking behind us, some chanting, some silent. I begin to identify them by their gait, their shoes. A family dips in the icy waters to our right, gasping and laughing. I catch the scent of sulfur as a match is struck to light the tiny flat disk of camphor, the size of my thumbnail, in the flower boat intended to send a blessing down the river.

I am caught too deeply in observation to actually be meditating, but I try. Eyes closed, eyes open, uncross legs, re-cross, shift feet, sigh. I am not struggling, just observing how I am handling the impatience of my mind, the distractions. I am straddling both worlds and content in that.

Our time in meditation has ended. We bow in appreciation to the river, to ourselves, to our practice, and stand up to walk back to yoga.

There will be no gap in thoughts today for me. No profound awareness of the silent presence. Yet I am left calmer and clearer for having made the attempt.

Or perhaps it is the power of the Ganga herself that leaves me more content.

India Calls

IMG_5438

India is always on my mind. I cannot articulate what about this mesmerizing and frustrating country has me so captivated. The people? Absolutely. The colors? For sure. The history, spirituality, devotion, customs, mystery? All of it.

But when someone asks me why I love India I can never convey with words why I must go back again and again.

A piece of me is from here. When I stepped onto Indian soil that first time, I reclaimed something. Nothing was added. Nothing was new. Something left sleeping and lightly snoring deep within had simply yawned, stretched and awakened full of peace and unperturbed joy.

I am able, in this truly foreign country, to be at peace with what is. Everything is so different from home I have no choice but to accept what is. My initial reaction upon seeing a family of five on a motor bike was, they can’t do that. But, indeed they can. That simple realization that laws and customs, and well, everything, is different here ,created a space of child-like wonder that a highly-decorated-deities-on-the-dashboard-‘horn-please’-hand-lettered-on-the-back truck could lumber through. Everything is new. All this ancient, crumbling, centuries old stuff, is new. To me.

It is this renewed sense of wonder that I take with me as I walk to see a Jamaican guru named Mooji one morning.

He is speaking somewhere down river. Led by a devotee of his in our group, we walk south, past the Indian man chanting into a microphone in front of a movie camera, beyond the women washing clothes in the Ganges, through an alley and onto a seemingly residential road where hoards of people – mostly white westerners – were patiently, almost quietly, waiting in line.

The line seemed terribly long, but we had heard they admitted people by lottery so our chances were as good as anyone’s to get a good seat. So many of these gatherings take on a cult-like atmosphere and this was no different. Perhaps it was the ‘no talking’ dictate, or the helpers all in white. It is referred to as a Sattvic environment – pure, balanced. Whatever the case, I’ve been down this road before and it didn’t worry me.

As we waited to be admitted, we took in life around us as it was taking us in: Families with children looking down from their roof tops and marveling at these people that line up day after day, doors cracked to allow the curious to peek out and men seated on stoops having their normal conversations as if this was nothing new.

As luck would have it, we happened to be in the line that is chosen first to find a seat. The hall is big, with chairs lining both sides and a wide center portion set with pillows a little too closely together on the floor in the front, and wide open seating behind that. A single chair and a couple of plants occupies the stage in front of all of this. We chose chairs as close as we could get, maybe 10 rows back, stage right. And waited.

A woman in white took the stage first informing us of the rules of Mooji. It seems as if his message is all about liberation, as all questions were to be directed to that topic. There were standing microphones placed a few rows in on either aisle. If Mooji called on your raised hand, you were to speak your question into the microphone at close proximity so no one had to strain to hear you. Please make the questions universal and not personal. About liberation.

We were strongly encouraged to stay in our seats until Mooji exited at the end. No bathroom breaks or leaving early, please. If we felt we might want to do either of those, we were invited to take a less disruptive place in the back of the large hall.

Finally he joined us. I found his presence very soothing and grounding. He sat, covered his lap with a blanket then paused with the mic that was to rest on his ear, held aloft, as he gazed out at the audience with the most gentle smile in his eyes.

Then he placed the mic on his ear and spoke for several moments on the prison of our habits. Boom. Most of my nonfiction reading lately has been about this very subject – some of it even on purpose, some ‘accidental.’ I was listening.

Once he opened the floor up, it seemed despite the clear instruction at the beginning, each question was pretty personal in nature, but he was able to answer on a broader level. The people who stood to speak were infused with that yoga high I’ve become all too aquatinted with. It’s not lasting. Not like this. Once they leave the confines of their bubble, the real world often comes barreling back in to challenge their newfound liberation. I hoped they have the tools to take home to integrate, so the high can settle into a well-worn sort of bliss.

That’s what it is; integration. It may feel like transformation, and on some level it is, of course, but it is incorporating what you have come to learn to be true about you and infusing the ego-based personality everyone you know, knows. Here, your thin, pink vulnerability is protected by a shell the size of India, at home, you are raw. It’s a process with which I wish them the best.

One woman was invited onto the stage where she sobbed uncontrollably into Mooji’s lap. He very tenderly rubbed her back as she continued to wail into his microphone. His compassion was palpable, his reach wide, I too dropped into his energetic embrace.

As the woman’s sobs subsided, he began to teach from this experience. She was clear now, she got it and the rest of us could get it too. I nodded to myself but I’m not entirely sure that I did get it.

My big take-away was that this liberation – which is more allowing and letting go, than an actual attainment of freedom – is right here. It is not somewhere deep, it is not hidden in a cave or an untranslated secret scripture, but right in front of us. This is not new, nor is it news. But it bears repeating over and over and over again.

We are our own jailers. Our beliefs prevent us from being free, our perceptions and ideas about what is right and what is wrong, or what is good and what is bad, these prevent us from knowing freedom of the spirit.

it is so simple, but not so easy.

“You are not living life, you are life.”

The woman who had let it all go at the feet of her guru stayed with me. Witnessing that experience along with the other teachings left me contemplative.

When we were at last permitted to leave, I just wanted to find an empty space and sit. The exit was ordered and quiet – everyone was still observing silence – all the way through shoe retrieval and to the fence at the edge of the property.

I wanted to stay quiet. I wanted to sit in a bubble where these ideas, thoughts and challenges could bounce around me without landing, passing before my eyes and awareness for review or dismissal as I saw fit.

But this is India and quiet is a foreign concept. Just outside the gate others began sharing their experiences. I wanted them to stop talking to me. I wanted the kids to stop playing, the horns to stop beeping. I wanted quiet.

But isn’t this the message from Mooji? Letting all the distractions go – they’re there, but they don’t have to be distractions. Inner calm, inner stillness is portable – yoga instructors on microphones, rafters shouting as they navigate the Ganges, burning bodies on funeral pyres down by the same river, are all transient.

What I really craved was quiet time to digest, but that was a luxury I would be denied, maybe even until I was once again on my own sofa in my own home.

So often the pearls from my travels and experiences – maybe most especially in India – are revealed to me upon review. Writing is how I process these. I wonder, on occasion, if I am embellishing the memory, making it richer, better, more to my liking. But on the whole I don’t think that’s the case. I am simply able to take the time to color all the way to the edges.