where the ordinary meets the extraordinary

My regular readers know that I attended the Kumbh Mela in Hardiwar in February for 9 days. I bathed in the Ganges on Mahashivaratri. While I was not at the Mela towards the end in March and April when there were millions more people than in February, I certainly don’t feel as if I missed anything. I was there on a very auspicious day and it was wondrous and indeed, extraordinary. I hope that my karma is such that I can return to the Maha Kumbh in Haridwar 12 years from now. Who knows? I would be almost 70, hari om….

Baba Rampuri shared this video with me. It shows the initiations of a “blue-eyed” yogi and a yogini.

Rampuri’s book Autobiography of a Sadhu has been republished, and I read it in 2005 when it came out under the title Baba: Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Yogi. I found it a fascinating account of the naga baba life from a western perspective.

In this video the initiation is being done in the naga babas’ camp. I walked through the camp twice during the Mela and was blessed by this sadhu:

He is an Urdhabahu Sadhu, a sadhu who keeps an arm up until it atrophies, the physical manifestation of tapas and bhakti. Most of the men and women in the camps are tantric yogis.

Where the ordinary world meets the extraordinary world…..

after bathing in the the Ganges

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the surrealistic version of Eat Pray Love

I’ve always received messages in my meditations. Some might call them visions although that is too strong a word for me because I certainly don’t consider myself any type of psychic. I do get flashes of peoples’ lives when I do energy healing — I usually don’t tell them what I see but when I do it is always confirmed. But for the longest time a picture came into my head of an older me, with long gray curly hair, wearing orange robes and sitting with my eyes closed on a ghat somewhere in India. I don’t know if it is a picture of the future or from the past. When I first started to receive these images I did not know what a ghat was and India was not even a thought in my mind.

After five years of going to India this was my first trip to north India, to the Ganges. When I walked onto our hotel terrace overlooking the river in Haridwar it took my breath away. I stood there amazed because I instantly knew I had been there before. I have written before about how for the past two years I knew in my bones I had to be at THIS Kumbh Mela at THIS time in my life. Nothing was going to stop me.

I stood there for a long time taking everything in and it was such a deep, visceral knowing that I could only compare it to when my feet first hit the ground in Chennai five years ago, the feeling that I had come home. Everything that was in my view I had already seen and known. There was no mistake about it, I had already been here, in this spot. It was the week of Mahashivaratri and the orange robes of the sadhus across the river looked so familiar to me on a level that was very different from seeing them in photographs.

Before the Mela we had been in Kolkata where we went to Kalighat. When I walked into that temple I received such a blast of shakti that I had to sit down before I fell down. When we were in the inner chamber itself my friend told me that my eyes were so dilated that I looked like I had dropped a hit of acid. The cockroaches crawling all over the metal grill surrounding the murthi of Kali Ma sparkled so brightly that they looked like crawling jewels. I mentioned them to my friend but she could not see what I saw.

After we made our offering and the priests thumped our foreheads we walked around and came to the area where the goats are sacrificed. The idea of an animal or a human dying for the Divine is abhorrent to me but I take many things in stride in India. If the thought of legless and deformed beggars or slum children pulling on your sleeve for a rupee is too much, then India is not the place for you.

I watched a woman butchering the meat as stray dogs gathered waiting for a morsel of goat to drop. Goat heads with blank staring eyes lined the edge of the sacrificial platform and I looked at the dogs. In my shakti induced high their panting mouths seemed to be smiling. Kalighat is next door to where Mother Theresa tended to the dying whether they were Christian, Hindu, or Muslim, and instead of feelings of revulsion about the decapitated goats, I took in the entire scene and all I felt was pure love. In the Bengali tradition, the goal of the Kali devotee is to become reconciled with death and to learn acceptance of the way that things are. The love that I felt was raw and primal and my heart space filled with the fire of bhakti. I felt as if I were on fire. I felt extraordinarily alive.

All the people who had died next door, all the goats who had given their lives for the Mother, all those dogs who were going to eat. It was my own surrealistic version of Eat Pray Love.

I was filled with joy.

On Mahashivatri we watched the procession of the naga babas to the Ganges and I knew that I had never been to such a joyful event in my life.

devotees of a swami

Our hotel in Haridwar had its own ghat and after the naga babas took their bath on Mahashivaratri I walked down the steps into the Ganges and dunked myself three times. We had already been in Haridwar for five days but I wanted to wait until the day that Shiva married Parvati to really feel the river. I had immediately felt the energy of the river just standing on the terrace on the first day so I knew it would be even more energized after the holy men bathed.

I was right. During my third dunk I stayed underwater a bit longer and I felt electric. I came out and sat on the steps with my feet in the water. Bathing in the river is thought to wash away one’s sins, a death, so to speak (“you will die in India….”) The waters of the Ganges are called amrita, the “nectar of immortality”. Hindus believe that there is nothing as cleansing as the living waters of Ganga Ma. I wanted to sit there all day with the water on my skin. Something was coursing through me and once again all I felt was joy. Our true nature.

As it turned out it was an auspicious day for me because that night I met a swami of the highest order, a man who is the Acharya Mahamandaleshwar of the Juna Akhara.

That morning he had thrown a rose to me from the procession — he stopped his chariot, looked right at me, threw the flower and smiled, and then moved on. At that time I did not know that in the afternoon I would be invited to a special puja that night at his ashram, the oldest one in Haridwar. A mantra teacher friend from Mumbai sent me a text telling me he was staying at an ashram and would I like to come for a special Mahashivaratri puja. He said he would be chanting during the ceremony and maybe I would be interested. I had no idea that he was staying in the ashram of the rose throwing swami, I did not even know the swami’s name. Before I left my friend said, “what if it’s the swami from this morning?” I told her that would be too much of a coincidence — but there are no coincidences, all things happen for a reason.

When the rickshaw arrived at the ashram that night and I saw the picture of the swami who threw the rose, I froze in my seat. I couldn’t believe it. Once again that shakti blast pieced the coconut and all I could do was stare at the billboard with his picture. I sat there for so long that some of the devotees asked me if I was alright. I walked into the ashram grounds and eventually was taken back into the swami’s compound before the start of the puja. Nothing was planned, everything just happened, merely the flow of the experience, the essence of allowing things to unfold. I was told that night that it was my good karma to be there, that I was meant to be there from the moment I caught that rose. I returned every day to the ashram before we left Haridwar.

For whatever reason, maybe it was my jump into the Ganges, but my personal practice and my yoga teaching have changed. I really can’t describe it, but the energetics have changed, even my students say so. I’ve read that when shifts of consciousness occur it changes your DNA.

The new message I received during my recent meditations was that the day I stop teaching here will be the beginning of my Indian life. But not yet. I still have some cooking to do, it will take a few more years. I’m coming to end of my marinating and it’s nice to begin to see what the feast is going to look like. Or not. That’s OK, too. Kali is said to not give what is expected. It is said that perhaps it is her refusal to do so that enables her devotees to reflect on dimensions of themselves and of reality that go beyond the material world.

Everything with a grain of salt. All things happen when they are ready to happen. They always have.

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Aum Gan Ganapatye Namah

O Ganesha and Kali Ma, bless our yatra!

I have one more train ride for which to buy tickets. What’s so hard about that you may ask? Well, if you have ever dealt with the Indian rail website, believe me, I repeatedly chant Ganesha’s mantra to remove any and all obstacles!

One can book tickets 90 days before a trip excluding day of travel and we have been lucky. My friend was afraid we would be “waitlisted” (where you basically wait for seats to become available) for the train from Delhi to Haridwar because of the mass of humanity (check out the satellite photo) traveling to the Mela. But Ganesha and Kali have smiled upon us because I was able to book us seats in First Class Air Conditioned for $18 a ticket (yes, you read right. $18 for First Class train travel) with a minimum of hassle (and that’s another story about using the website.)

Our third train ride (the first being a 7 hour trip from Kolkata to Bhubaneswar) is returning from the Mela, Haridwar to Delhi, nine days later. We will chill out in Delhi for a few days before my friend flies home and I fly to Africa via Qatar for another adventure. The 90th day is Wednesday so wish me luck that I can get our last train tickets. I’m ready to chant Ganesha’s mantra 108 times….and view the video to get a taste of my adventure….

my short cut to nirvana

(This image was originally posted to Flickr by Naresh Dhiman)

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I am planning a lengthy stay in India next year. I had planned to spend two months in an ashram in south India studying yoga therapy with a swami. I have since learned that the ashram is not all it was cracked up to be which actually didn’t surprise me all that much. I am certainly not going to spend my hard-earned yoga money on an ashram or a swami who makes false recommendations on an India travel website.

I learned that there were about 10 obviously fake posts on the thread about the ashram and they all seemed to be from the same city in India (Madurai, where the swami is based) from people who claimed to be from outside of India. Any website owner knows where people are located by the IP address, i.e., your computer’s signature, the same way a blogger knows where readers come from by looking at their site meter.

I take all things with a grain of salt (sometimes with a ton of salt) so while I had received very nice and friendly emails from the ashram when I was planning my stay, I was always cautious, I did not drink all their Kool-Aid. That’s just what I know about India and the spirituality biz. There are many people in the spirituality game in India who love to part Westerners from their money because so many naive peace-love-dove feringhees are willing to give it to the first dark sadhu who says “Come, I give you enlightenment.”

After learning about this I emailed the ashram asking for an explanation. I never heard back from them.

Now I have more money for my trip, the money I won’t be giving to the ashram. I’ve changed my plans to taking private classes again at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram like I did last year (and believe me, they also like Western money) and I can spend more time in my Indian home, Chennai.

Now I can get to the Kumbh Mela in February instead of in March because I won’t be spending January and February at the ashram. This will be extremely auspicious because Shivaratri is February 12 — “Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’. It is also believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvati Ma.”

I can already feel the shakti. OM KALI MA!

The best part is that I can spend more time with my friend (who originally was going to meet me in Delhi after my ashram stay), so we’re going to travel for two weeks in the south then head north for the Mela. This will be my fourth trip to India and her ninth trip, one of which included a Mela. Thirteen trips between the two of us — can you tell that we both have the same passion for India? Well, with India it’s always a love/hate relationship…;)

If things work out I will fly to Africa after the Mela to conduct a yoga retreat either in Tanzania (maybe with a safari option) or on the island of Zanzibar. My friend who lives in Tanzania flew to Chicago last week to see me — we had not seen each other since India, 2005 when we were together for a month at KYM. We’ve always stayed in touch and she had invited me to teach in Arusha, Tanzania but the timing was never right. Next year it will be. She knows people who own eco-resorts, perfect spots for a yoga retreat. If it happens, it happens, I am not attached. But it would be DAMN COOL to conduct a yoga retreat on Zanzibar! But I will detach from the outcome. To my global readers who have told me that would they would love to take classes with me….watch this space!

The Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in 2010 is the MAHA Kumbh Mela, the GREAT Mela, not the Ardh or half Mela. The Mother of all Melas. And I’ll be there, me and about 50 million of my closest friends. The largest spiritual gathering in the world.

My astrologer has always told me that the years 2008 to 2010 will contain great learning experiences for me and not just in yoga. That I will soak it all in “like a sponge.” Even before India was a thought in my mind a vedic astrologer told me that during the years 2008-2010 I will experience “divine grace.”

I take everything with a grain of salt. Whatever happens, happens. But all things happen for a reason.

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detaching from the outcome

Karmani ave adhikars te
you have the power to act only

ma phalesu kadachana
you do not have the power to influence the result

ma karmaphal hetur bhoo
therefore you must act without the anticipation of the result

ma sangostu akramani
without succumbing to inaction

The end of any year always leaves me in a pensive mood, plus I always like to throw stuff out and clear things away, like all the papers in my office for one thing. I also like to do some internal cleansing. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I send whatever intentions I have out into the Universe — if things happen, they happen. I learned a long time ago to detach from the outcome.

That’s why these words from the Bhagavad Gita resonated with me today. all things change, the nature of reality is impermanence. the older I get the more I realize this is true and the less I try to cling and hold onto things that are by their very nature impermanent. I’ve watched people who can’t control their own minds try to control their lives and it’s a never ending ride on that samsaric wheel. they run faster and faster and get nowhere just like hamsters in their cages.

However, that being said, I’ve made plans to live in India starting the end of 2009 and into 2010. it’s an intention that I’ve thrown into the Universe. I plan to study yoga therapy for two months under the personal guidance of a swami-ji at his ashram in South India and then travel north to the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in 2010. I received word from the ashram today to come earlier and stay with them on New Years Eve 2009 before the study starts. I could not think of a better place to be on New Years Eve than in India — that’s where I was on December 31, 2007.

So 365 days from today I will be in Ma India again, but as with all things, if it happens, it happens, I am not clinging. a year is a long time in the physical realm but only a blip on the radar screen in the astral realm. and I must always remember that anything can happen.

If I die tomorrow I would still be happy and I regret nothing. I have lived with rasa and passion and followed my dreams. I have walked to the end of an Indian beach where Hanuman lept across the ocean to save Sita and I have also been all alone in India sicker than an Indian street dog. I still regret nothing.

I give everything up to the Universe, but not without inaction. I merely detach from the outcome and live in the Sacred Now.


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