the bottom line

I returned from India last week dazed and depressed and feeling like I had been deposited onto a different planet.  The fact that the temperature in Chicago was literally 60 degrees colder than what I had experienced for almost three months in South India did not help either.  But here I am for better or for worse.

My trip was a mixed bag of love and hate, positive and negative, joy and sadness, and bittersweetness.   Like life.   The group trip to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and yoga retreat in Varkala was a life training, that’s for sure.  Let’s just say: I learned a lot about egos with a capital E and how to deal with them.

The majority of the time it was wonderful (how could it not be when I am in my soul’s home?) and most of the first timers to India were very happy, falling in love with Ma India as I did 8 years ago.  However, for my next retreat — YES, I AM CRAZY ENOUGH TO PLAN TWO YOGA RETREATS FOR 2014! — there will be ground rules in place like, “accept what is offered to you” and “this isn’t about you, it’s about the GROUP.”  Behavior that I deem inappropriate and not conducive to harmonious group dynamics will not be tolerated and people will be asked to leave, no refunds.   Just sayin’.

Amanda the Yogachicky has been writing fabulous posts about the group trip and her first time in India.  We’ve been online friends for a long time and we finally met in Chennai which she chronicled here. You can read about our week at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram here.

Leaving India gets harder and harder for me each time.  My friends there don’t want me to leave and tell me they love me.   One friend hooked me up with a lawyer whom I spoke to about starting a business in India.  No matter where I am whether it’s a big city like Chennai or a bigger city like Mumbai (that I experienced for the first time and had a wonderful time thanks to another online friend — read Sharell’s story on the amazing slum tour we took) or walking the beach in Varkala, a feeling that suddenly makes me weep passes through me like an electric wave.  It is tangible and visceral, that  feeling of being totally in the flow, how what I am doing in that moment feels so natural and perfect and right, much more so than when I am back living where I live.  The feeling of being dropped onto a different planet never hits me when I land in India only upon my return.

One of the participants sent me this quote from Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence  (you can change the pronoun and gender):

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place.  Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have know from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage.  They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known.

Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves.  Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history.  Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels he belongs.  Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth.  Here at last he finds rest.”

I started teaching in Varkala.  My style of yoga is eclectic and I taught so that people gradually got into Erich Schiffmann’s Freedom Style yoga as I interpret it.  I know I took two people out of their comfort zone with it and with yin yoga.  The bottom line:  I don’t know what the hell type of yoga I teach.  I put no name to it other than “mindful.” I don’t know how to market my style to draw people and we all know that yoga nowadays is all about the marketing.  I guess my students here who’ve been with me since almost Day 1 of my teaching can answer my question because I sure as hell can’t.  I don’t want to be put inside a yoga box because as a friend told me this morning, I was put on earth to shake things up.  So if you dig what I teach, cool; if not, oh well.

In spite of having some less than stellar moments during the group trip, I love showing people my India (not your India, not his India, not her India, but my India.)  A friend tells me that he thinks I am meant to be a Westerner’s guide to India (this friend has agreed to co-teach the next two week retreat in Varkala so stay tuned for those details!)  The prospect of starting a business in India makes ideas swirl in my brain, one of which is running a guesthouse where I can offer yoga classes and energy healing.  We shall see.  Goddess willing.

This is what one person in the group had to say:

“If Lady Luck or good fortune or the grace of god showers you with her serene and beguiling smile a time or two, you may pause in appreciation and recognition that being alive can be, well, pretty darn good. And when that invisible hand so softly and gently guides you to a place beyond which you have only allowed yourself to imagine, you may pinch yourself again and again to be sure you’re not dreaming.

It wasn’t a dream. It was, in fact, two plus weeks of the most in-your-face, raw, sensual, noisy, chaotic, exhilarating, life affirming, life changing, drama-producing, tranquility-inducing living that you might ever ask for. Oh, and loving and lovely, too. It was my first visit to India. All put together by Linda Karl, our guide, interpreter, arranger, teacher and very passionate Indiaphile.

What started with very pedestrian concerns about jet lag and more heartfelt concerns about being half a world away from my family, was immediately seized by Mother India and transformed into an experience that was so far beyond my expectations that I’ll spend the rest of my life sorting it out.

Yes, this was a yoga study trip that included a week with some of the most accomplished teachers you could hope for at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandarim in Chennai. We practiced asana and pranayama, learned about Patanjali’s Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, meditated and, for some of us, used our pitch-challenged voices to bring sound to Vedic chanting. Every day was full and complete and that doesn’t include the walk to KYM on streets filled with noises, smells, sights and sounds that invaded every sensory pore, every moment, unfiltered. It was double Red Bull India.

The second week at Varkala Beach was India light – every bit as real but allowing you to catch your breath. A tropical forest of coconut palms, banana and jack fruit trees and other forms of greenery not found in more familiar climes were set high on a cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea with small shops selling everything Indian and restaurants with the freshest catches of the day and cold Kingfishers to wash it all down. Here each day started with two hours of Linda’s interpretation of Freedom style yoga. The remainder of most days was unplanned and thus afforded time to ease into conversations with the other seven members of our group. For me, this is when the rose came into full bloom. The combination of intense yoga study and practice in a country that gave no quarter to a first time Westerner left me exposed. And into this opening walked seven people who shared some of their most intimate joys and hurts. That’s when I knew this was and will forever be an experience of a lifetime.

Since returning home I have savored innumerable moments and tossed and turned many thoughts. For anyone so inclined, ever how slightly, to consider making his or her own visit to India, allow Linda be your guide. Timshel.”

It’s the most beautiful thing a student can say about the experience a teacher offers them.

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Mumbai sunset

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a car like me: outside the box

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the money shot: in Mumbai market

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in the Freedom Style flow with Alicia Keys music

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where my heart is: Varkala

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Mumbai plate seller

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up close and personal with Ganesha

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in the ladies’ car, Mumbai

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Ganesh Mohan with his father, A.G. Mohan: yoga therapy training, Chennai

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rockin’ out to Freedom Style

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ch…ch…ch…changes

lotus feet

“Lotus Feet of the Lord” and a rose given to me by Swami Avdheshanand Giri, head of the Juna Akhara naga babas, at 2010 Kumbh Mela, Haridwar

Happy belated New Year!  May you all be well and happy and peaceful in 2013!

This is my first post of 2013 which is amazing to me since I started writing this blog in 2005 before my first trip to India.  But it is also my last post for a while because I will step onto Indian soil for the 7th time on January 29.  I’m blessed and oh so grateful to be able to have traveled to Ma India all these years.  That realization is never lost on me because India is truly my soul’s home.  As someone told me, my trips are not just to study yoga, they are pilgrimages.  Jai Ma.

This trip will be very different as a group of 7 intrepid travelers and yoga practitioners will be meeting me in Chennai for my first attempt at a group trip.  Kali help me.  I could never be a full-time travel agent because the details of organizing this trip have given me more than a few migraines.  And I am quite accustomed to being alone in India which is how I like to be.  Now I will be with 7 other people for a full 16 days.   It surely will be a test but I expect nothing less from Ma.

I start the trip with taking Module 4 of Ganesh Mohan’s yoga therapy training and then I am off to Calcutta and Varanasi and Sarnath, where Buddha did his first dharma teaching after his Enlightenment.   In Sarnath I will attend a dharma gathering led by Christopher Titmuss. After that, off to Varkala, Kerala for a week to see the preparations for my first ever retreat then back to Chennai to wait for the arrivals of 7 first-time travelers to India.

One thing that is VERY COOL is that I finally get to meet my long-time blog reader and cyber-friend Svasti!  How exciting is that?  Since we are both sisters of Kali we thought meeting up in Kali’s city of Calcutta would be auspicious.

Back to Chennai for a few days after the retreat then off to Goa and Mumbai, both for the first time.  I was invited to Mumbai by Sharell who writes Diary of a White Indian Housewife and I said “why not?” because life is too short and I have a lot more years behind me than I have ahead of me.  I found out about this yoga place  in Mumbai and contacted them about whether they would be interested in hosting me for a workshop before I leave India.  They said yes, so maybe I will bring Yin Yoga to Mumbai….we shall see!

After all that, I will start plans to an October 2014 yoga retreat to this place in the Himalayas….interested?  Two of my students already are thinking about going.

As for me and my yoga, 2012 was a year of santosha once I returned home from India.  It’s hard to explain but I’ll try.

Although I cut two weeks off my trip last year, I surely did not want to come home because I was content where I was and how I was.  I realized in India what a freak I am in my local yoga scene of hot yoga and acro-yoga and yoga with weights and yoga with such names that I can’t even figure out what it is.  People feel bad when I call myself a yoga freak but I don’t hold any bad connotations on that word just like my hippie friends and I were proud to call ourselves freaks back in the day.  So yeah, I consider myself a yoga freak and I let my freak flag fly.  You either dig it or not.

My yoga practice is more meditation than asana now and an epiphany came up and bit me in the ass as it usually does: santosha.   I used to get bent out of shape about not having a load of students.  Frantic as a matter of fact and I almost quit teaching.  Since I no longer teach in studios (other than workshops), the only regular students  I have come to my house.  A friend told me that we are true sangha because it is yoga the old school way.   My students are 150% supportive of me even though I will be gone 10 weeks — they know I need to get back to India to re-nourish myself and they know I bring back more yoga for them.  My students are empowered enough to do their own practice at home when I’m gone.

I almost canceled my group trip because of the Kausthub mess, but only one person backed out; the rest trusted my judgment about continuing the trip and studying at KYM and the majority of those coming have never met me.   That speaks volumes.

I get a ton of hits on my website but my phone does not ring off the hook — in fact,  it does not ring at all — for yoga inquiries.  I get no calls for private yoga, trauma sensitive or otherwise.  I’ve been told that with my training and experience I could make $100,000 a year in New York City teaching private classes.  I worked with one woman all last summer who was a survivor of sexual assault and she got to the point where she reunited with her husband and was able to move out of town, a story of transformation.  But other than that, nada.

Do I care?  I can honestly say no.  I’m detached from the fruit of my actions.  Sometimes it’s scary how detached I am.   My gut is telling me that the detachment will open me up for something much greater than I can imagine.  Those who want my style of yoga will find me, those that don’t, won’t.  And I am finally content with that.  And that’s liberating.  My own practice has gone so inward that I’ve turned myself inside out.  Last year I had planned to go to Varanasi but while meditating I heard a voice tell me “everything you are seeking you already are.”  That’s why it’s called insight meditation.

Yes, I still do workshops and I’m creating a Yoga for Inner Healing training that will utilize yin yoga and trauma sensitive yoga.  I’ve been asked to teach twice monthly next year and a place where I taught once a month.  I will work on “Freedom Style” Yoga workshops in the style of Erich Schiffmann.  I should say, in MY Freedom Style as Erich suggested.   Because that’s what yoga is to me:  freedom.  Once you silent mind, once you shut up, that’s when the knowledge flows in.  That’s freedom.

I realized not too long ago that I’ve developed siddhis.   Of course I am not talking about levitating or turning water into wine or developing the ability to drink poison unscathed.  I am talking about the ability to watch a negativity come up and then burst like a balloon or disappear like a rising bubble in champagne.  POP.  GONE.  Over and over again.  That’s real magic.  My reactions to things in the not too distant past that would have been loud and immediate just aren’t there anymore.  POP.  GONE.   Those are the siddhis of transformation and I don’t quite have the words for it.  But that’s OK because I don’t think about it, it just is.  It’s this low-grade almost imperceptible constant buzz of santosha.  Silent mind it and shut up and do your practice.  Thinking less, feeling more.

I’ve done few yoga trainings this year but felt called to learn more energy work which I did in the form of Emotional Freedom Technique and Quantum Touch Healing. This is work I rarely talk about because when I talk about it someone invariably wants to label it and put it in a box, and that’s not what my energy work is about.  People here are dazzled by “master” this or that and how many letters you have after your name on your business card.  My friend in India just tells me “bring your healing.”  No one asks me what it is, what it does, etc. etc. etc. because it’s understood as being a part of life.  Something tells me to combine it with yoga but not here, there.  I just can’t bring myself to name it Blah Blah Blah Quantum Reconnective Reiki Blah Blah Blah Yoga Blah Blah — as I saw a class similarily named today.  It’s just yoga.  It’s just healing.  Life is yoga and life is transformation.  That’s it.

There is always a morphing, a changing, a moving on inside me.   I’ve always known my real home is the world and not where I live.  I knew that when I was living by myself eating government cheese and using food stamps when I was in college.   Maybe my niche is yoga travel to India and beyond.  Maybe my teaching niche is to small, select groups who can see beyond mainstream.

Adios, kids.

the writing on the wall

Enjoy the silence.

A week from today I leave for my 6th trip to Ma India, my longest trip yet, 10 weeks.   My internal alarm clock goes off and my body and mind start buzzing a week before any India trip.  If you’ve been keeping up you already know with whom I’m studying and where I’m going.  I think what is making the buzz even louder is that my bones are screaming at me that this trip will not be like any other I’ve taken.  It is going to be very different.

2012-2013 will be transformative.  Maybe transitional is a better word because I feel like I am a turning point in my life.  For whatever reason a whole lot of stuff is ripening, maybe that’s the buzz I’ve been feeling for the last 6 months.  As a long-time gardener I am very in tune with a garden’s growth so a sense of fecundity is certainly not lost on me.   I recently had an amazing Tarot reading and one of the cards the reader pulled was that of a pregnant woman with a huge belly lying in a pumpkin patch entangled in thick vines…waiting to give birth but feeling like it will never happen.

For most of 2011 I felt stuck, trapped in the tired paradigm of what constitutes yoga in the modern scene, but also trapped in tired paradigms of relationships of all kinds.   How to digest traumatic experiences without having them fill our hearts with hate and despair?  I experienced despair last year that I have not experienced for a very long time.  Buddhi (intelligence) is the function of the mind that digests our experiences by wisdom so that they serve their purpose of growth and renewal.

Fecundity, growth, renewal…see a pattern?

Toward the end of 2011 I came to grips with my place in the Universe.   It’s about walking my path alone, shaking people up, turning things inside out and upside down.   You best believe I have plans for that when I return.  But that’s not an easy path and not always welcome, even in the yoga world.

The Tarot reader said that India mirrors back to me my true self, who I really am, and what I am capable of.  She said  there are many reasons I am drawn there but a major one is affirmation, people that bear witness to my work in this world.  I’ve always said that people “get” me more there than here.  Going back to India yearly re-charges, re-nourishes, and nurtures me in a way that nothing else does here.  This is the first time since 2008 that I will be traveling alone in India and I am going to relish it — no one’s agenda but my own.   Freya Stark said, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”

In her book Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff Rosemary Mahoney describes how I feel when I go to India, a solo woman traveler of a certain age:

I was alone, finally, with no one to protect me. I wanted to sing for happiness — a rare, raw, immediate sort of happiness that was directly related to my physical situation, to my surroundings, to independence, and to solitude. The happiness I felt that morning had nothing to do with the future or the past, with abstractions or with my relationships to other people. It was the happiness of entering into something new, of taking the moments simply for what they were, of motion, of freedom, and of free will. I loved not knowing what would happen next, loved that no one here knew me. I felt coordinated and strong, and the world seemed huge and vibrant. It was a relief to be alone…

My happiness was a feeling of physical lightness, of weightlessness, like drifting on air…

To prepare for her trip up the Nile, Mahoney read the Egypt travel journals of Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale.  She writes that she recognized in Flaubert’s notes of 1850 the same kind of happiness she felt.  She quotes Flaubert as he witnesses the Nile:

I felt a surge of solemn happiness that reached out towards what I was seeing and I thanked God in my heart for having made me capable of such joy; I felt fortunate at the thought, and yet it seemed to me that I was thinking about nothing: it was a sensuous pleasure that pervaded my entire being.

Mahoney quotes Florence Nightingale’s reaction to a Nile sunrise:

It looks. . .so transparent and pure, that one really believes one’s self looking into a heaven beyond, and feels a little shy of penetrating into the mysteries of God’s throne…

This is the sunset taken from the top of a temple in Rameswaram and just beyond the horizon is Sri Lanka.   During that evening in 2006 as I stood at the top of that temple and stared into the limitless expanse of ocean, I began to cry as I imagined the monkey god Hanuman leaping from rock to rock to rescue Sita.   Like Flaubert, I also thanked the Universe that I was “capable of such joy.”  Such profound joy and pleasure that it indeed pervaded my entire being.

Finally Mahoney describes Flaubert and Nightingale as neither having “any desire to fit the tediously cliched expectations that society had slated for them”; that they both “prized solitude”; and both traveled Egypt during periods of “considerable personal uncertainty and self-doubt”, agonizing “over how they would use their talents and answer their natural impulses.”

I am a woman of a certain age who travels alone, relishing my solitude.  After traveling around the sun over 50 times, India was the first country overseas that I visited and if I can never return, I always carry India with me as a talisman.

I also do not suffer tediously cliched expectations gladly.

The wounds and arrows of my misfortunes sneak in sometimes when I’m not looking and I can only tend to them in the arms of the Mother.  One way of tending to them is by reading the writing on the wall and acting upon it.  The writing on the wall tells me “to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.   I choose to risk my significance; to live so that which comes to me as seed goes to the next as blossom and that which comes to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.”   I will not die an unlived life.

The last card the Tarot reader pulled was called the Speaker of Trees and it contained a picture of a snake rising up through the center of the tree.  The reader said that the card means power, confidence, brilliance, communication of new ideas and plans, everything coming together.

I’m going home to shed my skin.

Happy New Year…to me

The title is tongue-in-cheek.  I wish all my blog readers — and haters, especially the haters — a joyFULL and metta filled New Year and indeed, the same for all of 2012.

Looking back over 2011 I learned a lot this year — learned a lot in a somewhat quiet way, not so much in the hit-ya-over-the-head type of way.  And what I learned was yeah, it IS all about me.  Really.

The year started off with a bang as I had decided to stop writing after writing this blog for 6 years.   Then this Yoga B.I.T.C.H. returned, renewed and refreshed.   I did my thing all year, teaching my students and going for a few trainings, and then I hit the wall.  I almost quit teaching this year and then I got re-inspired.  I collaborated on a new and (we think) powerful Therapeutic Yoga Training that has garnered a lot of interest so far — but not where I live.  But I’m OK with that finally.  Esalen has asked us to send our yoga resumes.  Yeah, you bet your asana I want to teach at Esalen.  I’ve finally decided to conduct a teacher training and  I’m planning a Yoga & Spirituality Retreat in March of 2013 where the Therapeutic Yoga Training will be an option.

I also decided not to allow myself be ruled by the current yoga business paradigm because I am so much more than that.   Two yoga teachers who trust my vision are on board and if it’s meant to be, it will be.   I honestly don’t care what the local  yoga studio does because frankly, that business model is tired and stale and the people I want to teach to aren’t those people anyway.  To that end, I decided to start a non-profit corporation in spite people telling me not to do it.   Henry Ford once said that if he had asked people what they wanted they would have said “faster horses.”  Think about it.  I stopped allowing people without vision into my life.  But a praying mantis taught me my biggest lesson.

My biggest lesson was listen to my heart.

Of course I know that I’ve been doing that for years, listening to my heart and to my second brain, my gut.  But somehow I had lost my way a bit this year, I can’t explain exactly how.  Maybe it was by trusting people too much, by expecting to be treated as I treat people when I should have no expectations at all.  Yes, trust is a positive thing, but not at the cost of denying yourself.   My life lesson at this stage of my 57 years on this Earth is that I am not responsible for anyone’s happiness and no one is responsible for mine.  The key is to let go of everyone, and I mean everyone, who do not have your  best interests at heart, the ones who do not support you, the ones who can not make the least bit of effort to sustain a relationship.  Get rid of the “iffy” people as I call them.   Life is too short for peoples’ “bar talk.”  That’s over and done with, and like anywhere else, the yoga world has lots of bar talk.  My Kali Sister Svasti has some good advice about what she has learned in her 40 years on the planet.

While that lesson has been rolling around in my consciousness for quite some time, it took events of this year to solidify it.  Intuitively and energetically I know that my yoga trainings early next year in India — one with A.G. Mohan, and my 6th time at Desikachar’s school – are the culmination of my beginning.  A cycle has come to an end.  The long beginning was my 10 years of a yoga teaching.   I learned that you can’t seriously refer to yourself as a teacher unless you’ve taught for at least 10 years.  Sorry if that offends anyone.  On second thought, no, I’m not sorry.  I’m being real.

I also know intuitively and energetically that I am going to give birth to something potent and profound.  Don’t mistake my confidence for arrogance.  I know this as sure as I knew for two years that I had to be at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar last year.  Spiritual adepts have been telling me this for years — that the years 2012-2014 are going to be a rebirth.  But you have to die to be reborn.  Dying never bothered me, it’s living that’s hard.

We’ll see what Varanasi has in store.  I’ll be there at the end of my trip at the end of March.  Varanasi is also referred to as Benares or Kashi, the city of cremations, a city of death and rebirth, a city that like Haridwar last year, I know in my bones I must be there at that time of my life.  North of Varanasi is Sarnath where Buddha did the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma on the Four Noble Truths.  One city of endings, one of beginnings.  Between trainings I’m spending my time in Varkala in the south, where there is a 2,000-year old Janardana Swami Temple, a temple to Vishnu that is referred to as “Benares of the South.”   In Varanasi I’m staying near Assi Ghat, the same ghat where Krishnamacharya stayed when he studied in Varanasi in the early 20th century.  My India trips are always filled with such serendipity.

I’m ready for a new beginning.  I believe you either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.   Those are your three choices in life and I don’t have time for vanilla or beige anymore.  As Danielle LaPorte writes:

show up.

shine.

let it go.

Happy New Year.

To me.

pilgrimage

“The obligation to go to “the place which the Lord your God will choose” (Deut. 16:16)”

“In religion and spirituality, a pilgrimage is a long journey or search of great moral significance.”

“Journey to a shrine or other sacred place undertaken to gain divine aid, as an act of thanksgiving or penance, or to demonstrate devotion.”

Five years ago the seeds of my teaching in Africa were planted when a fellow student at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram asked me to come teach in Tanzania. I will never know the reason she sensed I was capable of that.

Two years ago the seeds of going to the Kumbh Mela were planted when I suddenly knew without a doubt that I had to be in Hardiwar at this specific time in my life and nothing would stop me. It is a deep knowing that I can not explain.

In 7 hours it all begins when I step on the plane. I’ve been told that at the Kumbh Mela I will meet a holy man who will tell me something that will change my life “forever.”

And I will thank the Universe in my heart for having made me capable of such joy.


(original upload by tudo de Om)

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circle of life

“I did not begin when I was born,
nor when I was conceived.
I have been growing, developing,
through incalculable myriads of millenniums.
All my previous selves
have their voices, echoes, promptings in me.
Oh, incalculable times again
shall I be born.”
–Jack London

I will die in India….

and be reborn in Africa.

this I know in my bones.

time for old paradigms to die.

the end of the beginning.

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because my spirit moves me

…because my 55th year on this planet will be a year of world travel for me….touching ground in 7 countries in 9 weeks…from here to Abu Dhabi to India to either Qatar or Dubai to Kenya to Zanzibar to Tanzania, back to Kenya and then landing somewhere in Europe before flying home….

…because plans are in the works to teach in Australia and Bali next year….

…because I was given travel brochures from Spain and was told “put your group together and go for it”, “it” being a yoga retreat in the Pyranees, in a place where there are no border guards and you can walk back and forth from Spain to France…another sign that this is what I am meant to do….

…because I saw the movie Julie & Julia yesterday, a movie about two women — one young, one who was my age when she found herself — finding their passions and rebirthing themselves….

…because I will anoint myself with water from the holiest river in India….

…because I dance with wildness knowing that I would rather fail at the right thing than succeed at things that are not right for me….

…and because I like Dead Can Dance.

enjoy.

The Invitation
(Oriah Mountain Dreamer)

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.


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random musings: life, connections, India

I read Why India? this morning and left a comment for Braja. I told her that she was preaching to the choir (and thank you, Braja, for posting that awesome pic that I liberated — that little pic says it all for me!)

Why India indeed? Braja wrote about it — I listened to a deep, inexplicable stirring inside me and I went, alone. I was 51 and had never been overseas anywhere in my life. I told my husband (who for an entire year before I went was very negative and not supportive of my decision whatsoever) that nothing and no one will stop me because the feeling I had was so intense. That sense of urgency is called samvega and if I have to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand. You just have to feel it and know it in your core. And when you feel it, there is no turning back.

It was my karma. The minute I set my foot on Indian soil at 2 am outside the Chennai airport and walked into a sea of brown faces I knew I had come home. It was primal, visceral, certainly a past life thing, and there has not been a single day since 2005, not one, that I do not think of Ma India. That’s me in the photo, upon first seeing the temple in Gangaikondacholapuram. I stood there amazed. The shakti was palpable.

Now I am planning my fourth trip for January 2010 and I’ll be moving out of my comfort zone of South India. My friend and I decided to visit Kolkata. We’ll be there for about 8 days before moving on to Delhi and then taking the train to Haridwar — where the Ganga spills out of the Himalayas — for the Maha Kumbh Mela. Yup, us and about 50 million of our closest friends. We will be there on a most auspicious day, Mahashivaratri, Shiva’s day, and I will be there when he dances. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but for about the last two years I have felt in my bones (just like I knew I was going to India) that something will happen for me there. A few weeks ago a spiritual adept confirmed my intuition, and if it happens, it happens. I won’t say what she said, you will have to wait until I get back. If I come back. My students and my friends know there is always that chance.

So I’ve been very pensive these few days. The details of my African yoga retreat are being finalized, and since finishing my latest training I can now fully concentrate on my India trip. The line from a Grateful Dead song keeps going through my head, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” Indeed.

Yesterday as I walked to the Chicago yoga studio where I trained I thought about how nervous I was on the first day of training, a mere 7 years ago. Now I am planning my fourth trip to India, I’m leading a yoga retreat in Africa in February, and I might be teaching in Australia next May. I’ve created my own holistic healing modality, a combination of my Phoenix Rising training and yoga therapy teachings from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, and firmly grounded in insight meditation and mindfulness practice. And yes, I’m trademarking the name, I’m going to play the American yoga game at least in that respect. Seven years. “They” say we go through major changes every seven years.

And those connections we make. I’ve always said that I feel more connected to the global yoga community via this blog than I do to yoga people in my own backyard. For one thing I’ve received more support from people who I’ve never met than from people who know me here. Funny how that works. People like Kevin who paid my deposit to the ashram I was going to study at but then changed my mind (yes, he got his money back from the shady swami.) We’ve never met but he paid a deposit. That’s trust.

People like Nadine who calls me one of her “yoga mothers.” We’ve never met but we both attended KYM at different times so we have the same yoga sensibility (and we both love love love Mark Whitwell.) Nadine hooked me up with the woman who can make my Australia teaching possible. But me, a “yoga mother”? I cried when I read that because I am only a mother to cats. Most people I know would never think of me as mother material, in fact, they’d snort and laugh and roll their eyes at the thought. But what they don’t know about me….it’s their own avidya.

And of course dear Svasti. We are both survivors and connected in that way. She said, “I have this theory about the little blog world here…that it’s made up of similarly disaffected people, who get it because that’s also been their experience.”

Yeah, I get it. Connections. There are others and I hope you know who you are.

None of this is lost on me. Life is ebb and flow. Some of us have some pretty heavy karma to burn through in this life. There are no accidents and all things happen for a reason even if we don’t know the reason at the time. The realizations I’ve had in these last seven years, well, let’s just say that if I died tomorrow (and I am very comfortable meditating upon my own death), I would be happy. Very happy. And grateful.

It’s all so connected, it’s all so real to me: yoga is life.

What’s so hard to understand?

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The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India

I want to give a shout-out to a new book written by my blog pal, Shelley Seale. The Foreward is by Joan Collins with endorsements by Geralyn Dreyfous (Executive Producer of Born Into Brothels), Kate Dancy (Save The Children), Dominique Lapierre (Author of City of Joy) and more. I first “met” Shelley through her blog The Weight of Silence — we both share a love of Ma India that is primal.

Shelley first went to India to volunteer with a children’s charity and fell in love with India and its people. I know how she feels because when you travel to India you are inevitably surrounded by begging children wherever you go. It’s been three years since I saw this girl in Pondicherry and the photo still haunts me…those are my rupees in her hand.

Shelley’s book is available in stores right now. Buy her book, donate money, help the children of India.

You can read an excerpt from Shelley’s book here.

Q&A with Shelley Seale author of The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India

1. What is the book about?

By now, everyone had either seen, or at least heard of, the movie Slumdog Millionaire, about the lives of two brothers who come from the slums of Mumbai – made even more desperate after they are orphaned. What many don’t know, however, is that for 25 million children in India, the harsh world depicted in the movie is their everyday reality. Yes, that’s 25 million kids who have been orphaned, abandoned or trafficked. My book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India, follows my journey over the past four years into the streets, orphanages and slums of India where these children live without families or homes of their own. I became immersed in their world, a witness to their struggles – but also their joys, their incredible hope and resilience that amazed me time and time again. The ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me. My sole purpose in writing this book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was.

2. When did you first go to India, and why?

One day in early 2004 I was paging through a local magazine when an article grabbed my attention. It told the story of Caroline Boudreaux, who had visited India three years earlier and happened upon an orphanage full of children living in incomprehensible conditions. She had returned home and started the Miracle Foundation, a nonprofit which raises money and recruits sponsors to help support the home. I began volunteering for the organization and sponsored a child, and Caroline invited me to go to India with a volunteer group. My first visit was in March 2005.

3. How did you first start thinking about writing this book?

When I arrived that first time, I assumed all the kids there were orphans in the true sense of the word – their parents had died. Instead I was shocked by how many of them had been “orphaned” by poverty; their parents had left them at the Miracle Foundation home because they were too poor to feed them, which in some ways seemed an even greater tragedy. I wondered when each of them had stopped wanting to go back home, or if they ever had. Many of them had also been affected by other issues such as disease or child labor and trafficking; some had been found living on the streets.

As I bore witness to the harm that lay in each of them because of their pasts, as I discovered the stories behind the faces and the names, there was simply no way to go on with my life afterwards as if they did not exist. So I embarked on a three-year journey researching the issues, traveling throughout India and talking to many professionals and those working in the trenches to uphold these children’s rights and improve their futures. I could see that they were “invisible” children, without a real voice of their own. My sole purpose in writing the book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was.

4. How did you involve your daughter in your work?

When I first went to India in 2005 and the idea for this book was planted, my daughter Chandler was a 14-year-old junior high student. Like most typical teenagers, she paid little attention to my volunteer work with the Miracle Foundation – until I actually went to India.

When I returned, Chandler was pretty excited and enthralled by my photographs and the stories I told her. That fall she started at a new high school that was very progressive, featuring a Global Citizen class and a spring “project week,” in which students were given a week off regular class schedules to complete a project of their own design. Some students made videos or art projects, others did community service. Between the school’s focus on social and political issues and living in Austin among a set of friends with broad viewpoints of the world, Chandler decided that her project week would be India – going on the volunteer trip and compiling a photo journal of the experience.

Chandler already had a broader sense of the world than I had at her age, and a compassionate nature. I yearned to foster that seed in her. I thought, what an incredible blessing it would be for a person to grow into adulthood without the blinders, without the sense that the small corner of the world she knew was the only one there was. I knew she would be enriched by the experience, and I also knew it was a gift she would not take lightly. And so I returned to India exactly one year after my first trip, with Chandler in tow. It was such an amazing journey for both of us. The look on her face our first day with the children beat any day I had ever spent with her in my life, after the day she was born. She never once complained about the heat, the dirt, the food, the place we stayed…you have to know that this was not Mumbai, this was a tiny, poverty-stricken, rural village. She didn’t want to come home and cried when we left – as we drove away from the orphanage on our last night, at the hotel, on the airplane.

5. What was a pivotal moment in writing The Weight of Silence?

I was about halfway through the book when I attended the Prague Summer Workshop for writers in the Czech Republic, in July 2007. There I was part of a nonfiction manuscript workshop with about ten other writers. I couldn’t really figure out how to integrate the personal journey and story part of the book, with the bigger picture research and statistics about the issues affecting these kids. It was unbelievably helpful to get objective input into what worked and what didn’t, from people who didn’t know me at all and hadn’t read the manuscript before. And learning what worked – it was almost magical, sitting there listening to the other participants read aloud the passages that they loved. It was like an “a-ha” moment; I knew exactly how it was supposed to flow, exactly how the finished book would read.

6. There is so much poverty and plight in the U.S.…what drew you to India?

This is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked: Why India? You’re right, there is much poverty and need in the U.S., and we must all be aware and active in the struggles against poverty, racism, sexism, social inequities and other challenges that create vast problems right here at home. I believe that, and I am also involved in a huge amount of work on behalf of foster children and children’s rights in the U.S.; I donate much money to these causes and volunteer hundreds of hours a year here at home. I truly believe it is all of our obligation as citizens. It’s not like I think only India has children in need.

My simple answer to the question “Why India” is, why not? Once I got involved and then traveled to India and the orphanages myself, and began researching the issues for my book, the vast differences between children’s issues and lives in the two countries were glaring. Extreme poverty in India is not the same as poverty in the United States. And there are very little, if any, safety nets for the children who fall through the cracks. Although we have vast problems as well, millions of children in the U.S. aren’t threatened by malaria and tuberculosis, denied their entire educations or trafficked – sold into factories or domestic labor if they’re lucky, to brothels if they’re not. A childhood cannot wait for the AIDS epidemic to subside, for poverty to be eradicated, for adults and governments to act, for the world to notice them. And quite simply, because those twenty-five million children exist.

7. Do you worry about being a non-Indian writing about these issues?

Yes, I am very aware of being a westerner writing about India, and am quite direct in the book about its purpose not being to tell Indians how to solve their own problems. My only desire was to give a strong and hopeful voice to these children. Foreigners, including myself, do not and cannot know what is best for India. It is not a matter for us to come and instruct or order; for efforts undertaken in that way, no matter how well intentioned, will always fail in their arrogance. Foreigners rarely fully understand the society they think to “improve,” and the potential for imposing their own cultural bias can result in negative consequences for those whose lives they seek to change. We should come to listen, to learn, to assist where and when asked; and so the goal of this book is simply to allow us to hear what those voices have to say.

8. Who has inspired you on this journey?

From a very early age, my grandparents and parents always inspired me. I have the most wonderful, close, loving family who have always supported me unconditionally. It’s an amazing gift, which is why it breaks my heart to see other children go through life without that. While writing the book, there were so many people along the way who inspired me and have become my heroes. Caroline Boudreaux was the first one – this woman gave up a very successful television advertising career after meeting a group of orphans, by chance, on one evening – and dedicated the rest of her life to supporting them and ensuring their fundamental rights. Dr. Manjeet Pardesi, her Director of Operations in India, has a similar story – he left behind a successful accounting business in Delhi to open and run an orphanage and home for unwed mothers hundreds of miles away.

Outside of the social workers and professionals, there were so many people who awed me with the lives they laid bare to me. One woman in particular in Vijayawada in Central India, named Durgamma. This woman lives in a slum village that has been completely devastated by AIDS, which has wiped out a large portion of the middle generation there. What it has left behind are dozens of families in which grandparents are raising their grandchildren, after their own children have died of AIDS. This type of household is so prevalent there that the women have developed “Granny Clubs” to support each other. Durgamma is trying her best to raise her two young grandsons – one of whom is HIV-positive. She is a stooped, elderly woman who can barely walk, and yet she may be one of the strongest women I have ever met.

9. If you had one wish what would it be?

That there was never a reason for me to have written this book in the first place – that as I sit here and complete this interview, there aren’t currently 25 million children living in orphanages or on the streets in India. All lives, no matter where they are lived, have equal value. All children are born with fundamental rights – to food, clean water, medical care, education, and a home. It’s up to us to ensure those rights – as well as that most basic of rights – a childhood. Once it’s gone, that childhood can never be regained. Let’s not wait until it is too late.

10. What do you hope the readers “take away” from your book?

Two things. First of all, that even though the topic is serious and the stories often heartbreaking, it is not a depressing book or subject! These kids, and their stories, are incredible and awe-inspiring, hopeful and inspirational. In my journeys over the last three years into the orphanages, slums, clinics and streets of India I have become immersed in dozens of children’s lives. Their hope and resilience amazed me time and time again; the ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me. Even in the most deprived circumstances they are still kids – they laugh and play, they develop strong bonds and relationships to create family where none exists; and most of all they have an enormous amount of love to give. The issues are tough, what has happened to a lot of these kids makes you want to cry – but the bottom line of their stories is a very strong, hopeful voice.

Second, just to get involved and do something; to realize that just a little bit can move mountains. Too often, I think the natural inclination of most of us in the face of some of the large problems in the world is to become overwhelmed and throw up our hands in despair. They seem insurmountable. But the truth is, the smallest actions can make the biggest difference in just one person’s life, and if you can affect one person’s life, it is the world to that person. Most of us could never sell all our belongings and go work in the trenches in India, but that doesn’t mean we should think, then, that we can’t do anything at all. Amazing things can be done that aren’t difficult at all. A reader doesn’t even have to come away from my book and do something about India – I think the key is to discover what you are passionate about, what you have genuine feelings and caring about – and then do something about that issue. But just do something.

11. If you could ask people reading this to do one thing, what would it be?

Give these children a voice by reading their stories. And, as I said, find the something that is “your thing” and take action to make a difference in someone’s life. Remember, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”


Slum boy using garbage for a toy, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 2008


Slum children, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 2008

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