where in the world (2010)


After 5 trips to India I finally made it to the north, to the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar, a city in the foothills of the Himalayas. I was attending the Maha Kumbh Mela, the largest spiritual gathering for Hindus that has gone on for milennia.  Me and about two million of my closest friends.  When I walked onto the terrace of my hotel the river took my breath away. I stood there amazed because I instantly knew I had been here before. I had known in my bones that I had to be at THIS Kumbh Mela at THIS time in my life.

I stood for a long time and it was such a deep, visceral knowing that I could only compare it to when my feet first hit the ground in south India five years before, the feeling that I had come home. It was the week of Maha Shivaratri, the Hindu festival to honor the god Shiva. The orange robes of the sadhus across the river looked familiar to me on a level that was very different from seeing them in photographs.

The week before I had been in Kolkata at Kalighat, the main temple in India for the devotees of the goddess Kali. When I walked into the temple I received such a blast of shakti that I had to sit down before I fell down. It felt like I had been punched in the chest. Inside the temple a Western woman told me that my eyes were so dilated that I looked like I had dropped some LSD. The cockroaches crawling over the metal grill that surrounded the statue of Kali sparkled so brightly that they looked like crawling jewels. I mentioned them to the woman but she could not see what I saw and turned away.

After I made my offering and the priest rubbed my forehead I came to the area where goats are sacrificed. The idea of an animal dying for the Divine is abhorrent to me but I take many things in stride in India.

I watched a woman butchering the meat as stray dogs gathered waiting for a morsel to drop. Goat heads with eyes that contained their last image of life 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 to where Mother Theresa tended to the dying and instead of feeling sick at the sight of headless 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 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. And I was filled with joy.

In Haridwar on Maha Shivaratri I watched the procession of the mostly naked naga babas as they marched to the Ganges and I knew that I had never been to such a joyful event in my life.

My hotel in Haridwar had its own ghat – steps into the Ganges – and after the yogis took their bath I walked back to my hotel and down the steps into the Ganges and dunked myself three times. I had been in Haridwar for five days but I wanted to wait until the day that Shiva married Parvati to really feel the river.

During my third dunk I stayed under a bit longer and I felt electric. I came out and sat on the steps with my feet in the water. 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 with my feet in the water and never leave. Something was coursing through me and once again all I felt was joy.

That night I met a swami of the highest order, a man who is the spiritual head of the Juna Akhara, the naked yogis I watched that morning.

That morning the swami had thrown a rose to me — he stopped his chariot in front of me, looked into my eyes, threw the rose and smiled, and then moved on. I held the rose tight because people were already pushing me out of the way to pick up the holy rose petals from the street. 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 found me to invite me to a special Maha Shivaratri puja. 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.

When the rickshaw arrived at the ashram I saw the swami’s picture outside and froze in my seat. Once again a shakti blast felt like a punch in the chest and all I could do was stare at the billboard with his picture.  I sat there for so long that some of his devotees asked me if I was well. I walked into the ashram and was taken into the swami’s compound before the start of the special puja. That night my friend chanted to Shiva as I sat on the floor gazing up at the swami. The gold in the mala around his neck looked like the crawling sparkling jewels I had seen in Kalighat a week before.

Everything just happened, merely the flow of experience, the essence of allowing things to unfold as if by Divine plan. 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 in the morning.

I thanked the Goddess I was capable of such joy.

I have heard these words inside me

The narrator of the Gateways of Light video says that we are coming to some type of major defining moment in our history and “those people who are meant to unfold through this are unfolding and are doing it pretty rapidly.”

Words similar to those above were said to me about 15 years ago when I got back on this yogic and spiritual path. The first time I talked with a spiritual adept she stopped and looked me in the eyes. She said that the world as we know it will seem to split into two camps, and that those who have been working on their inner life will ascend while the others…well, it will take them a bit longer, so maybe not in their present lifetimes. Then she said, “and you will be part of this ascension on a global level, part of the new paradigm.” At the time I said nothing and took it with a grain of salt, merely nodding my head. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday.

I’ve had more than few conversations like that in 15 years, and things that were told to me have come to fruition, slowly but surely. Even before India was a thought in my mind a vedic astrologer told me that I would experience “divine grace” around 2010. At the time I did not even know what divine grace meant so I shrugged it off.

But I will be at the Kumbh Mela next year, the “great festival of the pot of nectar of immortality”, on an auspicious day and I’ve known in my bones for a long time that something will happen to me. I can’t say what, but something is calling me there like nothing else has ever done. I can’t explain it so I just let it be. I surrender. I have felt the shakti in certain temples in South India and have broken down. I surrendered. I’ve even thought that maybe I will die in India, and if so, all things happen for a reason. At least I will be on the Ganges and my body can be burned.

The narrator speaks of the disconnectedness of this world and I have seen this more and more in even long time yoga students, their disconnection from their bodies, the fear of closing their eyes. Students I’ve been teaching for over 5 years are suddenly like beginners again and they have no explanation. It is as if they have become afraid to feel.

I truly believe that all the turmoil that is happening in the world today is meant to be — the economy, the layoffs, the environment. This Kali Yuga is a cycle. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can begin the climb back up. Sometimes you have to lose everything in order to wake up.

My time on the cushion now brings me much more satisfaction than asana ever did. Sure I feel good physically after asana practice, but it’s always a dance between forms and formlessness. As Gary Kraftsow said, “…yoga isn’t about getting to know the postures. It’s about getting to know yourself.” In the past month I have a felt a new spaciousness inside me that was not there before and I know that what I do now will culminate on February 12, 2010. I know this in my bones as well as I know my name.

All I can do is surrender.

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“We hardly ever listen to the sound of a dog’s bark, or to the cry of a child or the laughter of a man as he passes by. We separate ourselves from everything, and then from this isolation look and listen to all things. It is this separation that is so destructive, for in that lies all conflict and confusion. If you listened to the sound of those bells with complete silence, you would be riding on it–or, rather, the sound would carry you across the valley and over the hill. The beauty of it is felt only when you and the sound are not separate, when you are part of it. Meditation is the ending of the separation not by any action of will or desire.

Meditation is not a separate thing from life; it is the very essence of life, the very essence of daily living. To listen to those bells, to hear [that] laughter…to listen to the sound of the bell on the bicycle of the little girl as she passes by: it is the whole of life, and not just fragment of it, that meditation opens.”

(pp. 20-1, Meditations, Chennai, Krishnamurti Foundation India, 2000)

My recent experiences with yoga studios have caused me to draw inward and reflect on human nature. as my teacher told me, I should accept that sometimes there are no answers.

The lines “We separate ourselves from everything, and then from this isolation look and listen to all things. It is this separation that is so destructive, for in that lies all conflict and confusion…” are the operative words for me in this quote. even in the so-called yoga community we separate ourselves from each other and become dogmatic. that is NOT what yoga practice is about in my humble opinion, yoga is about opening up to greater things. and what are those greater things? more students? money? I have a website but I’ve never been good at marketing myself, it’s just not my thing. frankly, the chase for more money and more students gives me pause and leaves me cold. is that what yoga in America has become, the constant chase for “more”? more classes, more students, more yoga jewelery, more $80 yoga pants? and when you get more classes and more students, are you then happy? or does the chase begin all over again for more? even meditators chase after more meditation experiences. Chogyam Trungpa called it spiritual materialism.

A friend told me “I think you belong in India where it’s real. There’s too much of nothing around these parts.” I’ve been to India three times and I can tell you it’s really real, life and death on the streets, in your face 24/7. I’ve been invited to live there. but India has it’s own set of problems just like anywhere else and people certainly claw and scratch for “more” just like we do here. but somehow it’s bit different, at least to me it is.

So these experiences with the studios have caused me to step back and evaluate my life. I know it’s my dharma to teach, I’m just not sure if it’s here because I do long for something more “real” and for something “deeper.” I think it is also my karma to walk this path alone. another friend told me that Kali is testing me, that I must hang in there because the ride has just begun. she said that now my karmic playing field has been emptied from the trash and that I’ll see what comes to fill the void.

I have two trips to India planned. one is a year from now, two months at a south Indian ashram studying yoga therapy with a swami. the second is 2010, the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, the largest spiritual gathering in the world. I really don’t like to plan that far in advance, but I just offer those plans to the Universe and see what comes up, if it happens, it happens. I know in my bones that something will happen to me at the Kumbh.

Maybe my void will be filled. and if I die there, at least I will be next to the Ganges, my body can be burned and returned to Mother Ganga.

But for right now, I will rest and meditate and not look outward for more. my answers are within.

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the Kumbh

Kumbh Mela

start making your India travel plans now for a future Kumbh — it’s going on right now at Allahabad. It is said that a dip in the sacred rivers during Maha Kumbh or Ardh Kumbh takes one out of the cycle of life and death — who can resist that?

“Maha Kumbh is the largest human gathering in history for the single cause. This auspicious time & space is attended by millions of people on a single day. Since the beginning of time Kumbh has been a center of Hindu culture & faith. The participants from all the walks of life attend this cosmic zone. Irrespective of all worldly barriers of caste, creed, region, the Kumbh Mela has wielded a mesmeric influence over the minds and the imagination of the ordinary Indian…

…The Kumbh mela is huge gathering of Sadhus & Gurus from all over India & abroad. They come in millions from all the corners for this common goal. There are thousands of sects in India the most common are two, Vaishnava (Followers of Vishnu) & Shaiva (Followers of Shiva). The greatest feature of this mela are furious & exotic Naga Sadhus (The N@ked Ones) covered in ash, matted hairs. They are known as preservers of faith….”*

(*from the Kumbh website)

I’m going to plan for the Kumbh in 2010, in Haridwar at the foothills of the Himalayas…need to get out of my comfort zone of south India…

See you there.