How has Ma India changed me this year?
Greetings from India!
After sitting in the balmy breeze of the balcony overlooking the Himalyan foothills here at Nataraj Yog Peeth Ashram and Retreat Center, I have retired to the the cool air of my afternoon darkened room. Tomorrow morning, we begin seven days of silence, and I figure writing a blog post here will be a good way to settle into my inner world. Although this is not a strictly silent retreat. Om Baba, the “teacher” of this retreat, will be speaking and giving satsangs, there will be kirtan, and yoga classes. But we are freed from the habit of extending ourselves socially from one another. We can all be together and feel no pressure to connect, other than the connection that happens vibrationally, from inhabiting space together. This feels greatly comforting to me. I have met so many people in my two months in India... starting with everyone I met in Auroville (an intentional spiritual community in southern India) from the women in my Women’s Temple Training course, to other travelers, Aurovillians. And then the 40 or so people I met at Anand Prakesh, during my Yoga Teacher Training. Then there’s the people I met while visiting Yogi Amritam at his mountaintop ashram. And of course other friends I happen to meet, such as Vicky, the skinny and charming Indian travel agent who planned a beautiful trip for Charlotte and me, opened my heart and earned my trust, respect and love. And all of Vicky’s posse of friends, who work in his different businesses, now they are my friends too. Seven days of “social silence” feels like such a relief right now.
Because most of my time here this year has been in very structured environments (women’s temple training, yoga teacher training, and sightseeing with Char), my usual preference for a lot of introspective and integration time has not been met. It’s sort of ironic that while I have learned so much, it does seem like it has been more difficult to stay in touch with my “inner voice”. Cultivating this connection to the Inner Guru, the heart, is really the most important thing on the yogic path. It’s how God (Ishvara) speaks to us and guides us. Or maybe, since I do deeply trust that all of the meditation, yoga, prayers, chanting, pujas, kirtan, and other practices have benefited me, maybe what I’m noticing is that my inner voice speaks in a different way now, where it just comes through me, through my actions and my decisions, without actually “telling me” whats happening or why.
When I came home from India last year, I knew I was a changed person. My devotional life took on a new form and fervor, and I had developed a taste for yogic scripture and philosophy; reading the sutras brought me to intellectual bliss. This year, yes, of course I will be changed, but the way I have changed seems more subtle. The joys I have experienced this year are more constant, flowing, and quiet. And similarly the difficulties, they seem fleeting and are so well blended into the joys that I barely notice them. OK, except for maybe when we were leaving the hotel in Jaipur and a block of cement from the overhead demolition work fell on Charlotte’s head. I noticed that. And Momma bear was not happy about it. But Char was OK, of course, so Hari Om, we just kept moving. And maybe I also got upset when the taxi driver dropped us off at the wrong entrance to the Monkey Temple and Charlotte had to walk two miles of up and down hill under the noon desert sun, after two days in bed with Delhi belly (diahrea and vomiting). But the joys... the joys of this experience, the gratitude, the gifts... Just as I begin to panic about if we are getting on the correct train in Jaipur, an English speaking traveler walks up next to me and assures me that this is the train to Agra (our next destination). When I stop by Anand Prakesh ashram yesterday for a few minutes of meditation on the roof, my dear friend Vimochani appears and I get to bid her goodbye before she departs. The beautiful cool humidity of the Holy Ganges at sunset. Monkeys grooming my hair and pulling on my earrings at the Monkey Temple. My friend Dinesh just happening to message me that he is also in Jaipur at the same time as I am. My roommate Annaliese and her big curly hair, and our shared giggles about everything from farts to romance. The smell of the ritual urn containing herbs and the coals from the fire puja as the old man parades it around the ashram, for purification every morning. The daily pre-dawn clip clopping of donkeys, carrying the days construction materials (sand and rocks) up from the river to the hotels, homes and restaurants in genesis. Singing along with familiar mantras, songs and chants when I hear them emanating from nearby ashrams, temples and homes. The feeling of deep inner peace when meditation deepens and my breath softens and lengthens, and it feels like I am cuddling with the thing that breathes me, which can only be seen where the mind is not.
Another interesting thing that I notice about my inner world is something that an Indian saint, Anandamayi Ma calls “kheyal” or ‘moods’. The word also refers to an Indian musical style and comes from an Arabic word that means imagination. She speaks about how she often does not recognize people and they can be offended by this, but she says that she does not use the mind as others do. She is led by this kheyal. Kheyal is above reason and is not dependent on the logical process for its perceptions and decisions. Kheyal may sometimes seem whimsical to the limited intellect, but it never is.
I experience these waves of perception or sensation that almost feel like I am in a movie, and I think this is what Anandamayi meant my kheyal. These experiences are often triggered by smells or sounds or visuals. It feels sort of like what used to be sentimentality (which I really don’t experience much anymore), that really deeply felt sense of something... like when a sense of a particular food cooking recalls a memory of home. So I get these sort of “movies” that pop up in my psyche, but they don’t have a story or a purpose or a direction, they just are. Sort of like watching a really trippy music video or something. So when these happen, I just notice them, and enjoy them. I told Brigid about these a while ago, these moments when I am also reminded that I have never been in this moment before. One can never step on the same piece of water twice.
Another thing that is so alive for me right now is our plans for our Pop Up Ashram in the Red River Gorge! I am definitely feeling more ready than ever to embark on this initiative of creating the world that I want to live in. I have gotten so much psychological support for this endeavor here in India. So many yoga friends and teachers who express enthusiasm and want to come visit and who inherently understand the appeal of creating something like this. A quick update on this: my friend Cecilia Li will be co-creating this with me for May June and July! We are each buying a “residential” canvas tent that we will live in. And we are crowd sourcing our Yogashala or main Yoga Temple Tent, because we want that tent to be owned by the community, not by us personally. We are hosting an “Ashram Weekend” on Memorial Day weekend, an outline of what we are planning can be found in our crowdsourcing request.
Thank you for reading my update! It’s an honor to be connected to you as my friend, supporter and/or community member. May you be blessed with the abundance of the Divine Mother, as tonight is the third night of Navratri, the time to celebrate the power of creation. Hari Om.