Day 100 to Day 106 of the Self Transformation Program, Sadhana Mandir Trust, Rishikesh, India

Day 100 – the descending force

In meditation last night, I experienced a strange feeling of velocity, as though everything inside of me is being pulled upwards. It is so profound, I can’t even describe. We are told to let go of such experiences as they can lead to expectations and false delusions. Today, Rafiki tells us that when you reach the stage of meditation, all the steps of asana (postures), pranayama (breathing and prana regulation), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), and dharana (concentration) all fall away and it becomes effortless. The ascending and descending forces start to work and it is as though the divine reaches down and pulls you up, to home.

After dinner last night, we sang Kirtan lead by Radha who sings classical Indian song. Her beautiful warbling voice filled the room and while it was not Pratyahara, since music uses the senses rather than withdrawing them, it still feels like the sound of the divine. After Kirtan, we snuck up onto the roof to listen to John play his Yukalele and have a little bit of a sing along. We were like naughty children and at 9.30pm we had to retreat to bed, knowing we need to be awake early. This course is pretty intense- like spiritual boot camp. A part of me can’t wait to sleep in, but another part of me knows that this is a long term commitment and that I could keep up this routine forever. I just need the Sankalpa Shakti- the determination, the power to will and the one pointed focus.

 

Day 101 – Swaha, letting go into the river

I find a letter today that I wrote at the beginning of the year. The person it was for refused to read it, so I never threw it away. I guess I felt like I wasn’t being heard and that whatever was in the letter must be important. Without reading it, I take it down to the Ganga. Standing in ankle deep cool water that flows from the Himalayas, I easily tear up the pages into small pieces. I let go, release the attachment that is associated with it and let go of the past. In class, we constantly check our footprints on the yoga mat. The yoga mat is the Guru and it shows exactly how you use your feet. When we step onto the mat we always step forward, never backwards, never stepping into the past grooves. As I release the pieces of paper into the water and watch the current float them away, I can feel the cool energy of the river creeping up my legs. Silently, I chant swaha, which is the offering into the fire, the burning of past karmas and samskaras. The hand motions from the stomach and opens out, almost like vomiting up the excessive emotions. For the first time in a few nights, this person who refused to read what I wrote is not in my dreams.

As CS Lewis wrote, ‘There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.’

 

Day 102 – ants in the pants

Lying down for systematic relaxation, I become aware of an ant crawling on my collarbone. I try to ignore it, hoping that it moves onto my clothing, but I can’t focus and I am missing key points in the relaxation. I reach up and scratch at it quickly. After a few seconds I can feel more on my feet and legs. I rub my legs together but they don’t go away. I can feel a whole line of them crawling up my stomach so, frustrated, finally I sit up and lift up my shirt to see… nothing. There are no ants. Suddenly I am panicking. If there are no ants, then I must be hallucinating? What is going on? I can feel them! I am sure of it. I keep moving, twitching and scratching at my legs and stomach. Then they are all up my shirt, just tiny ones marching in lines across my body. When the relaxation finally ends, I sit up and look all over the mat and in my clothes. Not one ant.

Later, in theory class, Rafiki asks if we have anything to share but I keep quiet. I don’t need everyone thinking I am loopy. I can ask him about the ants later. He is talking and notices me scratching my arm. He starts laughing and yells, “Stop scratching! Be here NOW! What, you think those were really ants biting you all over? Hahaha! I nearly laughed my head off! You just missed an important step in the process!” Suddenly three other people pipe up that they also experienced the ants crawling or biting or feelings of energy shooting all over the body. I say, “Well I am glad it is funny, but I am worried that I was hallucinating!” He says I was. He won’t tell me why, but says to just let it go. Let go, let god, let guru.

 

Day 103 – thoughts are people

I am walking the path along the beautiful river Ganges when I see a group of monkeys foraging in the dry scrub to my right. They seem content enough and ignore me, so I continue to walk. I see a baby ahead but its mother isn’t bothered since I am keeping my distance. What I don’t see is the big male sitting to my left. By the time I see him, he is running towards me with his finger in between his bared teeth in an open threat. I stop and for a moment I think ‘fight’ but realise my only weapon would be my rubber sandal so I opt for ‘flight’ and run back a few metres. He sits down in the middle of the path and stares at me, making sure that I don’t come closer. I stand and watch him, laughing. This is just too symbolic. In yoga, the mind is often referred to as the ‘Monkey Mind’ and Swami Rama says the mind is a ‘drunken monkey’. Here I am, on the path and before me is an angry monkey, feeling threatened. As I watch him, he opens his legs and starts scratching himself. He probably isn’t itchy; he is making a point. Eventually he gets distracted and wonders away and I am free to pass.

The people in my mind are running amok and it is distracting me from meditation. During relaxation I lose focus entirely and my imagination takes over the reigns when I am supposed to be melting into the floor. I can’t sleep, I can’t focus on eating and I can’t even make sense of the thoughts and people and people and thoughts. When thoughts come up in meditation, we say neti, which means ‘not this’. It has worked like a dam and now all those thoughts are flooding through, outraged at being held back. These people are attachments; they create bondage and misery instead of peace, harmony and bliss. Since blocking them makes no sense, I allow them to come through. I once again find myself at the Ganga with a piece of bottle brush- each red fibre of the bush flower represents an attachment, a person, a thought that is limiting my path and I let it go. Each day, I say my Sankalpa Shakti at least 4 times before meditation. It is the intention, the determination to practice.

I now take another step on the path towards enlightenment. Nothing and nobody can take me from this path. Least of all and especially not myself or my mind.

In the evening, I can’t sleep and so I sit up to write a list of unfulfilled desires. We are taught to practice santosh, contentment, so that we no are longer slaves to our unfulfilled desires. However, it is acknowledged that certain desires must be fulfilled so that one can feel contentment. One need not renounce the world, but rather live in it and above it, unaffected by events. My list is not long and I can’t help but add a few at the bottom just so that I can cross them out. This is a kind of encouragement. Like reminding myself how easy it is to fulfil desires.

Go to India. CHECK!

 

Day 104 – running in the rain

Pria, John and I sneak off to my room with the Yukalele and a small parcel wrapped in tissue. My neighbour managed to sneak in some contraband and we feel like naughty children. Behind the closed doors, we open up the tissue to reveal the trademark purple wrapping and can’t decide which one to open first- dairy milk or fruit n’ nut. Pria says she thought this was Indian chocolate, but I thought it was Australian chocolate but we are corrected by John, the Englishman, haughtily tells us that Cadbury is an English company. However, since both countries were part of the British Empire, Cadbury is sold there too. It is gone far too quickly, so we indulge in breaking the other rule- the rule of santaya. Here at the ashram, we are told to remain silent as it is the only truth. We are supposed to be having quiet time right now but being the three youngest means we are suffering from conversation deprivation so we sit and chat for two hours. Our teacher is an omniscient presence in this ashram and he has thrown some disapproving looks our way lately when talking about the importance of silence.

Although summer was here a couple of days ago, the weather has turned and the wind, cold and rain is making my Vattic bones ache. Halfway through the morning, I have been thinking a lot about how much practice we have to fit in every morning. I need six hours sleep, but at this rate I wake up at 3.45am! And lately I have been running after breakfast, instead of at dawn. I start to stress over all the things to do every morning when I decide to go for a run to clear my head. The rain parts for enough time for me to borrow a rain jacket from Pria but by the time I am up on the road, the light sprinkle has become a steady drizzle. I am jogging at a slow trot. We have been told to practice with a breath ratio of 2:1 when doing dynamic movements so asana, meditation preparation, walking and jogging especially means exhale for 10, inhale for 5. This detoxes the system and makes sure that the carbonic acid is being removed from the lungs so that lactic acid can’t build up. It also means that once I get used to the rhythm and pace of exhaling for ten steps and inhaling for five steps, I can jog for much longer. I love to jog but I gave up a few years ago because I wasn’t seeing any improvement. With this new method of breathing I can feel my endurance increasing and my lungs expanding. The rain is beating down on me, but I could keep on going. I have to stop because it is almost time for class and I am soaking wet. I slow down to a walk and turn my face up to the sky. My eyes closed, I lift my arms up and I can see bright orange/yellow light radiating up to the heavens all around me, like it is going to lift me up to another plane…. Like something out of Star Trek. That descending /ascending force again? Samadhi through running in the rain, reaching a new level of endurance… Apparently it is endorphins, and the neuro-chemical reaction of the blood vessels stimulated through nostril breathing but enough meaning making. It feels good.

On the way back, the rain has gotten heavier and my pants are falling down, heavy with water. I decide to sprint the last few metres but suddenly I step on something sharp. It is so sharp, I am sure it has pierced the thin sole of my runners but I can’t be angry; only grateful at the reminder to stay grounded.

 

Day 105 – the story of the King and the Jin

This story was a Swami Rama story, as told to me by our teacher and guide at the Sadhana Mandir Trust. Poetic licence has been taken in the retelling of this story…

Once upon a time, in a Kingdom far away, a festival was being held. This festival was full of music, bright colours, dancers, fire breathers and small stalls selling anything and everything a person could want. In one small, unnamed stall sat an old man who had only one item to sell. It was a very small, very unremarkable little wooden box. People would stop to enquire about this mysterious box, but the old man would tell them it was too expensive. No matter how much they offered to pay, the old man would say, “I am sorry but you can not afford this.”

The King and his Queen entered this colourful festival. After watching some performers, the Queen wanted to go shopping. The King suggested they go through the stalls systematically but the Queen was impatient. She spotted this tiny stall with the box that nobody could afford and she dragged the King straight over.

“I want this wooden box, my King. Please get it for me. I must have it to show all my friends when they come over tomorrow.” The King was reluctant but, being a good man, he wanted to please his wife so he approached the old man and asked the price of this small, unremarkable, box. The old man shook his head,

“I am sorry, my Lord, but this box is not for you,” the old man said.

“I can afford it, I assure you so please name your price,” said the King.

“You misunderstand me, sire. It is not a matter of price. I cannot sell this item to just anybody. It must go to one who can handle its contents,” insisted the old man.

“Whatever do you mean? I am the King! I am sure I can handle whatever small and ordinary item might be inside such a container.”

The old man sighed. Knowing the King to be wise, he finally agreed to give him the box, however he did not let the King pay.

“I cannot take any money from you, my Lord. Only promise me this; that you will never, ever, under any circumstances, open this box.”

“Yes, yes, whatever. As long as it is in my care, it shall remain unopened.” The King promised this, forgetting that it would not always be in his care. Feeling that the old man was good at heart, he went away, instructing his Prime Minister to make sure that the old man and his family would be taken care of for the rest of their lives in the kingdom.

Emerging from the market stall, the Queen quickly snatched the box and marched straight back to the castle.

“Don’t you want to do some more shopping?” Asked the King.

“No, no. I have what I want. You go on, I am going home.” The Queen hurried away.

The King knew his wife very well, so he followed her up to their room where he found her excitedly hovering over the box.

“Now, remember we aren’t to open this ugly little box,” the King warned.

“Oh don’t be an old fool. That man was nothing more than a swindler. He would have given you this damn thing; you didn’t need to go and give him a house!” The Queen, being stubborn and excitable, could not wait any longer so before the King could reach her side, she opened the tiny, unexceptional and unsightly little box.

All of a sudden the box exploded in a huge cloud of ancient dust and from within the haze emerged an enormous Jin with terrifying, glowing red eyes and skin blacker than the moonless night. It hovered over the royal couple, drooling ethereal saliva and smiling a wicked grin, it folded its enormous bulging arms over its bare chest.

“At your service, Master.” He growled.

The Queen stared open mouthed and then her eyes rolled back into her head as she fainted and collapsed in a heap on the floor. The King, in his shock, did little to help his incapacitated wife.

The Jin continued, “Your wish is my command. Only tell me what it is that you want and I shall complete any task you set for me. The only condition to this is that you never stop. The moment you have no work for me, I will be forced to eat you up!”

And so the King and Queen thought they were very lucky. Despite the hideous appearance of their new acquisition, he performed remarkably well and brought them anything they needed. This went along fine until a few years later, when they realised that their whole castle was full of useless things. They couldn’t possibly ask the Jin for anything else and they realised that they would seen be eaten alive by their own monster if they didn’t think of something. The King consulted his very wise Prime Minister who assured the King that he would solve the problem. So the King and Queen left the Prime Minister in charge, instructing the Jin to take his orders from the Minister until they return. They left in haste, thinking that the Minister would surely be eaten before long.

The Prime Minister, however, had an idea. He approached the Jin and said, “Please fetch me the longest and strongest piece of bamboo in the entire world.” The Jin disappeared but within a few hours was back from the humid jungle of Sumatra with the longest and strongest bamboo in the world. The Prime Minister was impressed.

“Ok, Jin. Now put this bamboo in the ground in such a way that it can not be moved, bent or broken.”

The Jin shoved the stick hard into the earth and no matter how much it was flicked, hacked or pushed, it indeed could be moved by no force.

“Now,” said the Prime Minister, “Listen carefully, Jin. This part is important. I need you to run up and down the bamboo. Do not stop until I come and tell you to stop!”

The bamboo is the spine.

The Jin is the mind.

It is running and breathing.

As long as the mind is focused on the breath running up and down the spine, it cannot eat us alive.

 

Day 106 – The Great Escape

Over breakfast I try not to look at the others. As soon as we finish eating, John, Pria and I hurry to get dressed. We feel like spies trying to exit the ashram separately so as not to arouse suspicion. As I walk out, the manager sees me and says, “Holiday today!” and I say, “shh, we are escaping!” to which he only laughs. After two weeks of silence, mindful conscious awareness and the sheltered life of the ashram, the world outside is a bombardment of noise, colour, movement, smells and velocity. We catch the rickshaw to the market and then change to go up to Lakshman Julle. All we talk about is all the amazing food we are going to eat. First stop is an iced coffee accompanied by baked cheese-cake and a chocolate ball. John has to stand still as his eyes cross over from a sugar overdose. We join the throng of people crossing the bridge and are lucky enough to find a gap where we can stop to take photos.

The whole purpose of this outing was so that I could get some clothes- it has been really cold the past couple of days and I only brought summer clothes so I need some leggings and a jumper. Of course, now that I am actually shopping, it has become boiling hot again! No doubt this weather will stay hot for the rest of my time in India, rendering my purchases redundant. Either way, my lower mind is excited to be shopping and I have to remind myself that I still have a lot of moving around in India before I can start filling my bags with incense and books.

I am dying to eat some street food but Pria talks me out of it. The samosas look greasy and dirty and delicious. After all, I don’t feel like I am truly in a country until I eat some dirty street food and make myself extremely ill.

Crossing back over the thin bridge, I can feel it swaying beneath our feet. Monkeys are perched along the cables, screeching at the crowd. Children with wide dark eyes, a black kohl marking in the centre of the forehead to keep the evil spirits away and completely shaven heads stare up at the creatures calmly while the parents nervously move away. In a sudden surge, we are pressed up against the cables and metal grates of the bridge and look around the oncoming motorbike to see an enormous bull standing in the metre-wide walkway. I am starting to believe that these cows aren’t just wondering around aimlessly. For a cow to join a huge crowd of people and get onto this narrow bridge implies that he must have business on the other side.

We have missed lunch at the ashram but find a small restaurant overlooking the river where we get dosas and lassis. We may be silent as we eat but it is because we are so busy enjoying the food. We don’t eat as slowly as we know we should, but the dosa just tastes too good! We know we will arrive back later than expected to watch the afternoon Swami Rama lecture DVD, but we have bought chocolate to supplement our lateness. Chocolate fixes everything.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. alifetimeoflessons
    Apr 16, 2012 @ 22:04:26

    Wow… your experiences are fascinating… such a real & beautiful account of each day… very inspiring!

    Reply

    • elizabethmajor
      Apr 20, 2012 @ 18:37:38

      Thank you! It’s funny how living with mindfulness suddenly opens one up to the beauty inherent in every being, every breath and every moment. Like before I was blind and all I had to do was open my eyes and see that sparkle of life.

      Reply

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