Gifts of the Unfamiliar

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I’ve been writing a lot about India lately. I’ll be going back in less than two months and it’s been on my mind.

As I’ve mentioned before, India is not for everyone. But I don’t think you can know if it’s for you or not unless you visit. I have a few friends who have gone and their sentiment is, “I went, I’m glad I went, but I don’t need to go back.” I get it.

Others I know who have visited India are as perplexed as I am about why they want to keep going back.

Maybe it’s a particular city or town that draws them in. Or the food. Or the temples and architecture.

For me it’s a feeling. I am simultaneously lost and home. I am removed from the familiar and insanely present to my current surroundings.

Perhaps that’s the gift of traveling anywhere unfamiliar. You have to find your way. You cannot be the same you that sits on your back porch sipping coffee every morning. Or the same you that runs up to the grocery store for a forgotten item. You’re starting over, building who you are here – wherever here is.

India is kind in that way. Most Indians speak English. Most will smile and nod as you tantrum about the way it should be. Most will accept you as you are.

Visiting India can never be as simple as shopping in Jaipur, staying on a house boat in Goa or walking the grounds of the Taj Mahal.

That’s simply the first sentence.

I would love to take everyone I know to India. Its gifts are rare and unique and not always obvious and quick.

India takes its time with you. It’s in no hurry.

As I prepare to go back I work on letting go of expectations. Even though I’ve been to the same places many times there is always some nugget of wisdom waiting for me.

I wonder what it will be this time.

An Adventure in Being

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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?

India is Medicine

Did you wake up this year with a burning desire to become something different? To take more risks? To let go of fear? Did you decide to uncover your purpose?

If you said yes to any of that, then travel you must. You don’t have to go half way around the world, a day trip to a totally different sort of locale could help. The beach, the mountains, a park, some place you don’t regularly access.

But, if a trip half way around the world sounds just like exactly what you need, I can take you there.

Travel can be the balm that helps heal dissatisfaction, unrest or even a broken body or tired soul.

In just two and a half months we will be going to India. This is a country profoundly poor but intensely spiritually rich. Because it is so different from the United States or Canada or even Europe, it affords you the opportunity to get to go know yourself on an intimate level. You get to see all your tendencies, habits and choices up close and personal. With guidance and support, you can learn a tremendous amount and choose where to make changes and what to let go of. You have the ability to immerse in you and transform on a deeply spiritual level.

In India it’s as if the volume and vibrancy of have been turned up and I am aware.

India for me has been a place to reconnect with my spiritual home – the internal one. I can connect here on American soil too, but in India it’s as if the volume and vibrancy have been turned up and I am suddenly aware.

Each time for me is different; some parts are easy, some more difficult, but it’s all magic. It all does its work on me. With every departure from India I leave a bit of myself behind. I give the broken bits and the old beliefs and judgments to India to transmute into something greater. I never leave unchanged.

My partner in this upcoming adventure is Karin; she and I have been to India three times together and she feels as strongly about its depth as I do. It is a passion of both of ours to share this magical place. The magic you find will be very personal, just for you and it’s there waiting for you if you’re ready.

If you woke up this year wanting clarity, peace and purpose, India might just hold the answer.

 

 

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.

Traveling as a Spiritual Practice

I do yoga. I meditate. I pray. I read uplifting inspirational books. But nothing connects me more to the Big Mystery than travel.

Traveling to a place like India or Mecca or the Vatican, of course, brings with it some spiritual or religious expectations. And I highly recommend you visit a powerful place that will fill your soul.

For the travel I’m referring to you don’t necessarily need a passport or plane ticket. You may not even need gas in your car.

Wandering in nature close to your home is all the farther you need to go. The travel part is more internal. The journey inward.

Here are some pointers for this short but potent trip:

  • Put your phone in your pocket and use only in case of an emergency or to capture a moment on the camera.
  • Sit or stand still for long moments.
  • Look around slowly. S l o w l y…
  • Notice everything. The butterfly, the leaves rustling. A bird. The sky.
  • Close your eyes and breathe.
  • Now, wander.

So much of travel – near or far – is clearing away the expectations and anticipations, including fear. This is the process of presence.

No matter how far you travel, BE in that space. Just BE.