Day 117 to Day 122 – trekking to the source of the Ganges, the Gangotri Glacier in Gaumukh

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Day 117 – Uttarkashi

Last night we arrived with the rain and the setting sun in Uttarkashi and came straight to the Monal Guest House, which is only 100m from the Uttarakhand Forest office where we need to get the permits for the Gangotri to Gaumukh trek. The guesthouse ranges from about 600Rp to 1000Rp per night ($12 – $20 USD), but is well worth the price. Located halfway up the hill, there is a balcony that overlooks the expanse of the wheat fields all over the valley. The balcony is a perfect place to practice some yoga and healing sounds, but closing my eyes is useless because I am so gobsmacked by the beauty of the mountains in front of me. I allow my mind to empty of content as I stand there staring at the broad expanse of green.

The owner of the guesthouse comes straight over at breakfast to introduce his animated self. He tells us that rain in Uttarkashi usually means snow up in Gangotri so we need to go into town and get some rain gear. An English couple tell us that the forest office require a photocopy of our passports and visas for the application, so we decide to stay another night and head down to the main market today to get ourselves organised.

The morning is actually hotter than we anticipated and I can hear myself complaining a bit about the walk, which makes no sense since I am doing all of this just so that I can go on a really long walk. The only trekking shop in Uttarkashi is in the main market, directly across from a small restaurant called the Shangri-La (which serves delicious Tibetan bread). This trekking shop is kind of expensive so I kind of wish I had bought some trekking gear in Rishikesh but we find a military shop that has rain coats for about 400Rp ($8 USD). My running shoes won’t be enough to protect my feet from the snow and the uneven ground so the owner of Monal has told me to look for ‘Hunter’ boots which are pretty much just canvas boots with a thick rubber sole. They cost only 400Rp as well. Hand-knitted woollen socks from a small stall cost 100Rp ($2 USD).

Some Godfather beer can be bought from a little hole in the wall just past the fruit market. It is so discreet, I almost miss it but the blackboard lists all stock and prices and the customers move quickly, trying to keep their purchases hidden. It feels like such a splurge to be buying beer, but we have to wait a few hours for it to cool down in the fridge as it is still warm. The guest house is a beautiful respite and I could almost stay a little longer since their evening dinner of paneer masala and dhal is so delicious.

 

Day 118 – Gangotri, the town in the clouds

The forest office doesn’t open until 10am so there is time this morning for a long practice. Instead of adhering to the ashram rule of meditating at the same time every day, I go back to spontaneous meditation. After breakfast, the moment of inspiration grabs me and I find half an hour of stillness easier than it has been for a long time.

The share jeeps leave from Uttarkashi until 2pm in the afternoon. It is only 4 hours to Gangotri up a steep, narrow road but it is dangerous in the dark. Each seat costs 150Rp ($3 USD) so to avoid being squashed in with 3 other people, we rent the whole middle seat between two of us. I will later be forever grateful for this decision when I step out of the jeep and see the mass of bright yellow vomit sprayed all over the side from out of the back seat window.

As the jeep travels up to over 3000m above sea level, I get a little bit dizzy. Once again, the mountains have me completely captivated and I have to make a concerted effort to keep my mouth closed. When I see snow for the first time I almost want to do a back flip out the window. Above me is the whitest white I have ever seen and below the sharp drop of the cliff, the road is lined with cherry blossoms, pines and birch. The car seems to fly around the corners as it weaves up higher and higher, but it seems I have misplaced my fear because all I can feel is wonderment. I slowly layer my clothing as the cold creeps in, but nothing could have prepared me for the icy air that envelopes my bones when we arrive in Gangotri. Running straight to the first guesthouse we find for only 300Rp ($6 USD), it takes only a few minutes to realise just how horrible it is. Rookie error: forgetting to check for holes in the widows. It is freezing in here! When I finally take a proper look around, I realise that the blankets stink, the pillows are stained dark grey and the toilet, which is a curious mixture of Indian-squat/Western-seated commode, has mysterious brown flecks staining it.

The market sells some second hand trekking coats and I pick up one that is filled with feather down for only 550Rp ($11 USD). It is like wearing a doona! Woollen beanies, socks and gloves cost me only 200Rp ($4 USD). After chai, coffee, hot chocolate, ginger-lemon-too-much-honey tea and any other hot liquid we can find, the only place left to be is bed in the hope of getting warm. I go to bed fully clothed because I don’t want to actually touch anything in this room and fall asleep thinking of home.

Day 119 – acclimatise

Morning time, the sun is out showing off the glory of the snow-capped peaks around the town. For some reason I could hear a chainsaw at 1am last night so I had horrific nightmares of amputated limbs. We need to move rooms but first we need to warm our insides. Trying to drink a litre of water this morning gives me a stomach ache so we find a small café facing the sun. I stand outside, trying to dry my boots. For some reason they just feel perpetually damp. In the new room which we have bargained down to 500Rp a night, we check the blankets for strange smells, the windows for holes and the toilet for stains. Everything seems to check out so we get a bucket of hot water to shower with. I don’t even want to take my shoes off and stand on the freezing tiles, but eventually I realise that I can sit with my feet in the bucket of hot water. I remember it was only a few days ago I was so hot that I had to sit with my feet in the coolness of the Ganges and feel that same sensation of temperature rising up through my legs and coursing through my whole body. This week I have to let go of my attachment to being clean, because it is way too cold to actually wet any other part of the body than the bare necessities.

In relative comfort, I sit under the blanket with the sarong draped over my head and meditate. This is surprisingly easy. The deep breathing is helping me to acclimatise and breathing under the material has created a warm little cocoon that I just don’t want to leave.

On the suggestion of a guidebook, a great Paneer Butter Masala can be found at Hotel Gangaputra, which is close to the Shiva temple at the Eastern end of Gangotri, but prices are surprisingly expensive at 50-100Rps per dish ($1-$2 USD). By midday, the clouds have descended upon the mountains and it feels as though the world has been pushed directly up into the heavens. I make a point to note that rain starts at around 1pm, so we need to leave pretty early tomorrow to avoid getting wet. I just can’t wait to start walking. Moving in the cold has got to be better than sitting around and waiting for frostbite to rob me of my fingers.

 

Day 120 – trekking from Gangotri to Bhojbasa

Before 7am the sky is covered in clouds and it is only my feet that don’t want to get out of bed. I get up and use pranayama to ignite some internal fire, but I promise you even my soul is freezing over right now.

We finally start walking at about 7.30am, but we walk through the temple and take the first path we see. By the time we are facing a huge boulder, we realise the track has ended and we need to double back. An old man points up a steep goat path and tells us that Gaumukh Road begins up there. It takes about fifteen minutes of steep rock climbing to reach Gaumukh Road and looking back along the path, I realise that it must start somewhere around the Western end of town. Great start. Everything else has to be easier than this, since all the guidebooks and other travellers assure us this trek is a gradual incline.

Only an hour and a half past the forest office where we show our permits and give a deposit for the plastic bottles and bags we are taking, there is a small signpost that says 15kms to Gaumukh. We have already walked three!

The first part of the hike is 14km to Bhojbasa and although most of the way is gradual, there are enough steep up and downhill sections to leave me more than a little breathless. The air is so thin up here, 2:1 breathing goes out the window and I am just sucking in oxygen anywhere that my body will take it. If only it were at all possible that my belly button could inhale! There are enough rocks on the path that I have to keep my head down and watch where I put my feet, but I take frequent opportunities to stop and look around. I have never seen such beauty. The snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas seem to roar in silence and the pine trees sway, worshipping the chilling sky. After allowing my lower mind to give me more than a hundred reasons why it doesn’t actually like trekking and why walking uphill in the cold, thin air is NOT so fun, the sound of the river, our steps and the loop of my breath fall into a rhythm and eventually there is a hush. I look around at where I am, what I am doing and the beauty, the glory of this place stuns me into silence.

There are no more signposts until we are about halfway, at the 10km mark. After this, the last 3km seems the hardest. My left hip has started to ache with every step and I can’t take my fingers out of my pockets because it is so cold; even in gloves they will go numb. I want to stop but every time we do, we cool down too quickly so Yon just keeps walking and we keep going. We come across a sadhu in orange robes and sandals. He gives us each a peanut and it is the greatest legume I have ever had the privilege of consuming.

At 2kms left until Bhojbasa, my head is starting to pound from the altitude and I feel a little nauseous. Every corner I am hoping that this town will be just on the other side. I look down at my feet and remember each step is for someone I love. I don’t think I even know enough people for all the steps this is taking, so I guess I am sending love to people I don’t even know.

When we finally see a flag and a rooftop in the distance, our pace picks up with the thought of chai, blankets and maybe a fire. The valley comes into view and the corrugated iron buildings that make up the ashram, GMVN guesthouse and the police quarters of Bhojbasa is the most beautiful site in the world. We are some of the first to arrive and within five minutes of sitting down for some 2-minute-noodles and a cup of way-too-sweet chai, the snow starts to fall. I feel too sick to keep eating and I eventually just take a headache pill and go to sleep for a couple of hours, curled up in a little ball under the thick blankets of the dormitory, holding my icy toes. I am terrified that the frostbite is already kicking in.

When I wake up in the metallic dorm room, I can feel my toes and my body has regained some warmth but my head still hurts. Apparently sleep is the worst thing to do for altitude sickness so I need to walk around and breathe.

The snow has not stopped falling all afternoon. It is the most beautiful, magical sight to see tiny flecks of pure white blanketing the ground. It’s like god is sifting flour all over us. There is no winter fire place or even a tin can, so I just keep pacing, stopping every few steps to look at the white rain that descends, bring heaven down to earth. Or is it bringing earth up to heaven?

A part of me can’t believe I haven’t yet died of hypothermia but my head has at least stopped hurting so we sit down in the thin metal dining hall for hot chocolate and a game of cards. We meet some of the other people making the trek. A couple we saw at the start of the trek arrive later; they had to trek through snow for an hour and almost considered stopping in a cave for shelter. I am so grateful we didn’t stop! They turn the generator off by 10pm and I retreat to my position under the covers, realising for the first time how hard this mattress really is. I have never been so cold in my life.

 

Day 120 – Gaumukh, the source of the holy river

I didn’t sleep. I think I might have dozed off a couple of times, but the cold and the excitement pretty much kept me awake for most of the night. I really do not want to trek for 9 hours under-slept but I also do not want to stay here in the cold for another night.

The final 4km trek ascends about 200m in altitude, but does not feel like too steep of an incline. When we get closer to the glacier, my pack starts to feel lighter, my feet are steadier and I pick up speed. It is like the descending force is pulling me towards this mass of ice.

The sun comes out from behind the mountains around 8am, when we are at the glacier itself and the snow sparkles in the light. I sit on a dry rock to get used to the fact that I have actually arrived at the source of the Ganges. After the idea has settled in and I can wipe the awestruck look off my face, I make the small climb over the snow-covered rocks to reach the mouth of the glacier. As I look to my left I see that the massive wall of ice beside me is actually part of it. I am actually standing in and on the glacier! I’m not sure that pictures, words or any human expression can truly capture that feeling of unity, of oneness, of extreme awe at coming face to face with the divine. Staring into the flowing water where ice becomes river, I make an offering and a prayer.

I look up at the towering giant of blue and white ice before me. I touch the icicles and write my name in the snow. Then I am ready to give the Ganges something that I have been holding on to for too long. I am ready to let go of the past, those negative emotions, memories of arguments and disappointments all the past associations and attachments that are holding me back. I can’t keep them any longer. So, hum… I throw it all into the water, right at the mouth of the glacier.

My heart is beating out of my chest. I sit down on a rock and hold my mala.

108 breaths. 108 hum so.

The past is not real, the future is not certain and all I have is right now, right here.

Part of my prayer is for sunshine. We still have to get all the way back to Gangotri before the snow or rain starts to fall. All I can do is pray and believe that this divine force will keep us in the light of the sun. We are walking back with an Italian and a Spaniard who have the beautiful presence of mind to start picking up rubbish along the way. We fill up the plastic bag before we even get back to Bhojbasa. If everyone who did this trek brought a plastic bag and picked up rubbish on the way back it would make up for the few people who still throw their plastics into this sacred, natural space.

The trek back is easy enough to hold a conversation for most of the way and the sun blesses us all day long. At one point we stop to marvel at a huge tree that seems to be holding the entire mountain up from the path. I stop to listen to it and it feels like I am hugging my mother. Stopping to hug a tree is like learning the secrets of the earth, embracing her and feeling infinite love. I hold the trunk for a while, feeling the subtle exchange of energy.

By the end of the trek, we can stand in the sun in t-shirts. The sun has answered my prayers and stayed with us the entire way. Gangotri, for the moment, is actually warm in comparison to where we have just been.

I have just trekked to Gaumukh, the source of the Ganges and back. I have seen snow for the first time in my life. I have stood in the mouth of a glacier and felt complete union with the earth. I have done this.

 

Day 121 – the long road down

It takes four hours in the share jeep to get back to Uttarkashi. We stop for lunch and buy some fruit before grabbing a taxi down to Rishikesh. The share jeeps only go to Dehradun, which is still an hour out of Rishikesh so the 3000Rp ($60 USD) taxi seems the better option for two extremely tired and dirty trekkers.

Morning practice in the cold has been reduced to just pranayama to warm up, so I am looking forward to getting back down to the ashram and feeling enough warmth to lie on the floor and stretch. The backs of my calves are sore, but amazingly my back is fine after carrying my pack for two days.

When we finally arrive in Rishikesh, it is almost 8pm and dark. We meet some friends and despite hunger, we are so excited reliving the adventure, we barely even eat. Chantal has met a number of people who have made meditation their whole life and is starting to feel like the only progress we can make is through hours and hours of daily practice. But after what I have felt, walking up the Himalayas and every moment of life that I have breathed in India in this past month, isn’t it possible to make your whole life meditation and make every hour a practice in itself? I refuse to believe that life and meditation are mutually exclusive. The more time I take out of each day to stop and meditate, the easier it is to move back into the day with that same sense of awareness and consciousness. If every breath is felt with purpose and sensitivity then even sitting around talking to friends and cracking peanuts can be a meditation, right?

I am washing my clothes and waiting for the shower water to warm up. I hover over the bucket, deeply impressed by the almost black water I am squeezing out of my clothes. I start an internal dialogue:

“Liz, that was amazing. Look at what you did! If you could do anything, anything at all, right now, what would it be? If money, work, family, home, study was not an issue and you could do whatever you wanted, what would you do?”

The answer comes as a small surprise:

“Go to Africa.”

“Seriously? Um, ok. If you want, let’s go to Africa! Why the hell not?”

It is a strange feeling to still be travelling and already feeling the intense need to go somewhere else but I have faith- if I can manifest sunshine and walk 4000m up into the sky, what can I not do?

 

Day 122 – displaced in the anywhere

I wake up with excitement to get back into the regular pranayama, meditation and asana practice. The air is warm and I am the only one in the meditation hall this morning. It feels good to be back to this place I called home for three weeks. Home? I actually feel like this is home right now. They say that home is where the heart is, but once you have direct contact with the cave of your heart, home is within. Home is enlightenment. Home is where the true self lives. So home is always anywhere that you happen to be?

I need to do a fair bit of writing, so I take my little laptop into town and sit down with an iced coffee, looking over the Laksman Julle bridge. The distractions are kind of hindering the typing, but eventually the channels of my fingers open up and the words flow. I stop to write a message and then have a sudden urge to call mum. My mum is beautiful, generous, kind, caring and just one of those universal mums that would adopt anyone I brought through the door. She takes in students while I am away and has just taken on an extra one, giving away my room. Well, the room I would sleep in when I went back to Sydney. It seems I have no home to come home to. I don’t want to upset her, so I promise it is fine. I get to stay with my brothers, which I love doing anyway, so realistically it is not a problem, but I can’t help feeling this niggling emotion. I stop typing to observe what this thing is tugging at my sleeve.

Witnessing this emotion is strange because it has come up from underneath the veneer of being the tough, travelling, nomadic who likes a simple life and few belongings. I realise that I feel displaced. I feel a little lost, a little sad that I don’t get to just go sleep in my own bed, in my own room among my own things. There has to be a reason for this, but I can’t see it yet because the damn emotion is clouding up my head. I wonder through the rest of the day in Laxman Julle trying to stay in the now so that I don’t worry about the uncertain future, but this strange feeling of displacement gets stronger. It was only this morning that I felt like the ashram was my home. Why do I care so much about this Sydney ‘home’ if I have already felt that home is within? By evening I decide I want a beer. There is apparently one place in Rishikesh with alcohol, called the Bandhari Swiss Cottages, right at the top of High Bank. We arrive only to be told that the boss has the key and the beer cannot be accessed yet. It’s just one of those days…

Suddenly I am laughing deliriously because I realise that despite these apparent setbacks, I am in India and I am outrageously happy. I am happy because suddenly I have no issues of home or family holding me back. I can change my study schedule for the rest of the year. I can go back and work hard for a couple of months and make more money. So now that I have no attachments holding me back, I can do whatever I want.

Ok universe, what are you saying? Go to Africa? Keep travelling? Keep searching, keep finding. Keep on keeping on. The world is my home.

Name: Elizabeth Major

Address: Anywhere

 

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Day 107 – Day 111

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Day 107 – a bit of positive ju-ju

We are going on an excursion to the Swami Rama Hospital and Ayurvedic Centre in Dehradun. It is only about 45 minutes away and the road is lined with signs warning drivers about mad elephants. Apparently they charge the cars at night when they see the headlights. It is mid-morning so no elephants in sight, sane or mad. As we travel through, Radha leans forward and instructs the driver in Hindi. Even when she just speaks, her voice sounds like singing.

At the hospital we move straight into the meditation hall. It consists of two small rooms that are beside the room in which Swami Rama left the body. There is definitely a different vibration in this space so we all pull up a pillow and begin our meditation set up. Despite the incense curling into my face, I immediately go straight into one-pointed focus. Instead of it being a struggle to keep the mind chatter out, it seems as though it is a struggle for the mind chatter to get in. Regardless of what people believe, I think most would agree that some places in the world seem to have a bit of positive ju-ju. Places that resonate at a higher level, like the static energy may just be a little bit more active there. I remember once saying to someone that I don’t intend to die of sickness or old age. When the time has come and my breath quota is up, I will consciously leave the body like all the great sages. I’ll let you know when I have figured it out.

Day 108 – Japa Mala

I wake up feeling a little ordinary…  I feel nauseas, my joints feel sore and achy and I am sure someone came into my room last night and filled my head with cement. For some reason, I don’t believe that I could actually be sick and so I feel guilty about not practicing or going jogging. Instead I move from the bed to the yoga mat and practice systematic relaxation and then fall asleep on the floor. When I get to our morning class, it turns out that everyone is sick. Half of the group have vomited and the rest are just as nauseas, exhausted and sore as I am. Instead of our usual YQ morning series, we all lie down on the yoga mats, curled up in blankets and rest. Our teacher and Radha, who don’t feel sick, rush around with homeopathic pellets and organise ginger tea. My neighbour is upstairs in bed- she also feels sick. Microbiologists are called to inspect the water, the filters are fixed and filled with filtered, boiled water and the rest of the day only kichari is on the menu. After breakfast I go for a walk and find the fresh air makes me feel better for a while… Eventually though I can feel that same heaviness and I fall asleep in our morning theory lecture, even with the teacher yelling over my immobile body. By afternoon he is talking about shutting down the program and sending us off to hospital. It turns out people are sick at the hospital too, so they believe it is something that was travelling in the air there that we picked up. Either way, we spend most of the day horizontal either on yoga mats or in bed. My stomach must be fine because I end up eating like 3 bowls of kichari, this cleansing mung bean and rice dish that works like medicine.

Today is the 108th day of the year, so in our theory class, we ask Rafiki to teach us about Mala. He is reluctant for some reason, but eventually tells us some technical pointers. In this tradition of tantra yoga, which deals with moving beyond the heart chakra and into the upper doors of the esoteric body, the Mala is held in front of the heart. The beads are draped over the ring finger and locked by the middle finger of the left hand, while the thumb moves the bead along. The guru bead, the 109th bead is never crossed, but rather the whole thing is flipped when one reaches that point. The Mala works as an abacus, to aid one in mantra repetition to prepare for meditation. It is comparable to the Christian Rosary, or the Jewish prayer shawl. If one is wearing the beads, they must be removed for ablutions, excretions and fornications. Apparently wearing them can keep one calm, offer protection and should always be beneath the clothing and in contact with the skin, where other people cannot touch them. Our teacher does 14 rounds of his mala every morning.

One of the participants is a Buddhist so she practices Japa Maladaily. She explains so beautifully that the Mala chooses you, that you build a relationship with the Mala and talk to them, sing to them, feed them with prayers so that you have a connection (but not attachment) to them.

Learning from Swami Rama’s Himalayan tradition, we have been given two mantras, Hum So and Aum. It is said that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. With Swami Rama, his Guru came to see him as a baby and whispered the mantra into his right ear. Swami Rama remembered the mantra immediately and it stayed with him always. I don’t believe that this is supposed to be taken literally, but rather that the mantra is a “resounding resonance emanating from the very core of one’s being.” This sound, of the true self, of the immortal “I” echoingdeep within the cave of the heart is never forgotten by the “I” but is always there. It is only the mind breathing body that must remember in order to return home. I don’t remember the first time I hear the sound of Aum. Is it like I always knew it? Was it like a reminder of the deep sound that is within all of us? All I know is that nothing sounds more like home than the reverberation of that sound as it is carried on the breath. It is the sound of unconditional love, of pure life force and of consciousness.

Day 109 – the default world

Everyone is feeling a whole lot better today and I can feel my feet itching for a run so I get out before the sun starts melting the pavement again and even manage a second jog before breakfast. I should have quit while I was ahead, though, because the second one just wasn’t as good! That is my trouble- G.R.E.E.D. I always want more. We have learnt that people in this world are motivated in the wheel of ignorance by one of two main drives: Generally Recurring Excessive Emotional Disorder and F.E.A.R, False Expectations Appearing Real. Those motivated by FEAR have serious attachments- past associations and those motivated by GREED have expectations – future assumptions. It is funny how true this is. If we always move toward the centre, then we can let go of attachments and expectations and live in the NOW.

We have been asked to write a daily schedule of practicefor when we return to the ‘default world’ outside (this seems like a future projection). I write and re-write this timeline more than five times, trying to fit in all the practices, all the pranayamas, hatha, a jog, time to eat and of course, work and study. Since none of us are quite ready to become renunciates and leave behind the world entirely, one of the biggest challenges we all share is the social aspect. If we have to practice in the evening for over an hour and wake up before 5am to start practicing then we can’t be up late partying. Not that this is much of a concern for this group of people, but the desire to have a late night dinner and a glass of wine with friends is going to, at some point, thwart the dedication to practice.

Looking at my schedule, I have left no room for error. There isn’t even really a 10-minute window for that post-work chat I know I will always succumb to. When I show my teacher, he asks me to take out the hour and a half of reading time in the evening so that I can have quiet time and get to bed earlier. I am starting to feel frustrations rise up- if this is too strict, then there is no chance I will follow it. Meditation should be fun! He even wants me to get rid of the jog! Admittedly there will be many days where this little yogi will want to forego the early morning jog, but there is no way I am giving up curling up in bed with a good book. Sorry! I compromise and tell myself that as long as I stick to the morning schedule, then on the days off I can do yoga nidra during the day and have the evenings to do whatever the hell I want, keeping in mind that after creating new grooves and displacing the old habits, I am sure what I want is probably going to be more meditation or yoga nidra anyway. I also give myself the secret permission to sleep in on the days off and just do the morning practice a little bit later in the day. Sorry, G, but if I don’t give myself one day a week of sleep-in to look forward to, then I will loose motivation. I know exactly what Elizabeth’s ego is like and she needs a sleep-in with Jane Austen every now and then. Ok, maybe not always Jane Austen… maybe a trashy, post-apocalyptic zombie novel will turn up there somewhere.

Sorry, I may be on the path of enlightenment and Pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, will make me stop watching the news as it is just more negative impressions I will have to swaha, and get rid of later, but the written word is my drug of choice and nobody can prise my face out of the pages of a good novel.

Day 110 – summing up the STP

In Yoga Nidra, I can feel my ethereal body rocking back and forth, as though slipping out of the physical body. At some point, I feel myself drool. Excessive saliva is a trademark sign of complete relaxation. For a few breaths I wake up and feel completely conscious, within the body. We roll to the left and feel the body expand, then onto the back and then onto the right. When we finally move into the cave of the heart, I can feel the vast space and empty darkness around me. Then it feels like I am falling through the floor, not in a scary way, but like the space between the atoms of the floor is moving out of the way slowly and I am sliding down, down… I can feel a gentle pressure on the exact point where the cave of the heart is, like that is the space I am falling into. I can’t explain it. That is how you know you have transcended the mind- there is no explanation. When we come out, I feel myself slowly come back up and into the body. The saliva has dried and when I open my eyes, it is like I have slept for eight hours.

It has come to the end and with a couple of people leaving early, we have managed to sum up everything from this Self Transformation Program. Our teacher turns to each of us and bows deeply, offering us gratitude even though it was he that gave us so much. He gives us a card. It has a picture of Swami Rama on it and a poem by the Guru:

Close your eyes and you will see clearly.

Cease to listen and you will hear truth.

Be silent and your heart will sing.

Seek no contact and you will find union.

Be still and you will move on the tide of the spirit.

Be gentle and you will need no strength.

Be patient and you will achieve all things.

Be humble and you will remain entire.

– Sri Swami Rama of the Himalayas –

In one of our final group talks we are discussing the four states of consciousness, including Turya, the highest, the place we are all working towards, the ‘beyond’, the dot at the top of the OM symbol. To get there, one must leave behind the body, the breath and especially the mind. This is terrifying because although enlightenment is home, it is also a vast and empty no man’s land between the ego/mindfield and the true self. It requires a huge leap of faith to leave behind everything that we have previously associated with our identity and individuality. IndiviDUALITY. That is the key. As long as there is duality, then we can’t experience oneness and if we don’t allow the letting go to happen, to fall like a drop of water into the ocean, then we will never know the complete bliss of immersion, self-realisation. To find the true self, to go home, to reach turya, Samadhi (bliss), become one with the divine, enlightenment, ascension… whatever you want to call it. In the Gnostic Gospels found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, there is a line from the Gospel of Thoma, which apparently directly quotes Jesus as saying “The Kingdom of God is within you.” In India, it is a generally acknowledged truth that Jesus spent about 18 years of his undocumented life roaming around and getting to know the wisdom of the ancient sages. They say he is one and the same as St. Issa and that he is even buried in Pakistan. Regardless of religion, of belief, or differences, the one common truth throughout the world is that within each being a fire burns, a sacred light that shines from the depths of their being, something that transcends this illusion we call the body. No matter who you pray to or if you pray at all, there is something that makes us value life, something that makes us connect and something that makes us continually transform.

In the past three weeks, this transformation has happened so spontaneously it is almost undetectable. The tradition, the practice and the beautiful energy of this time and place have all brought me closer than ever to that inner fire, to feeling that oneness with the true self. One day I will go within the cave of the heart and climb that mountain and instead of seeing my higher self in the inner temple, I will enter the inner temple. No more duality. Just I.

Day 111 – river of tears

We get to the last chapter that we have not yet discussed in the book. It is actually the middle chapter of Path of Fire and Light, Vol. II, but it was left until now. It is the chapter on relationships. It is a short section, less than ten pages but like every other page of this text, has a wealth of meaning behind every line. But you can read all the relationship advice in the world and it won’t make a lick of difference until you experience it for yourself and half the time, when you do experience it, all of that “knowledge” you thought you absorbed just dissolves and once you feel lost and helpless, like you are swimming against the tide.

The question comes up whether it is better to have a partner who is spiritual or not. I end up red in the face trying to argue that the question is moot because you can’t measure spirituality and even if you could, whether a partner is spiritual or not is only a matter of perspective. Just because someone isn’t “spiritual” in the same way you are, does not mean they haven’t found that oneness. I can say from first hand experience that I was engaged to the least spiritual man on the planet and yet when he was surfing, he managed to flow straight into the divine. He may never have called it that, but the sense of ‘oneness’ was clearly visible. Besides if meditation is a state of having no content in the mind than he surely reaches that state all the time! I argue strongly and finally am dismissed with a wave of the hand and told, “Fine, Liz, you have no answer. You can stay single.” In the least spiritual response possible, I leave the room trying to hide the tears stinging my eyes and I go down to the Ganga. It is almost midday so it is hotter than a whore’s handbag and I can feel the sun burning the back of my neck. I go down to the river and add some drops to the vast expanse of moving water.

Why am I crying?

The answer, as always, comes from within. Because you are full of judgement and condemnation. Let go. Ahimsa.

The first of the yamas, ahimsa, is non-violence or selfless love. If we love selflessly then we do not condemn or judge. This must be first applied to the self because that is the most important relationship we will ever know.

‘Expectation is the mother of all misery in relationships. If you did not expect so much, you would be happy. Having no expectations means happiness. Share, enjoy, and give freely to each other whatever you have. That should be the formula. You will enjoy love when you do not expect it from others… The problem is that you expect something great and powerful from something small and limited.’

–          Swami Rama

Day 91- first day in India and I’m already putting the Holy Ganges in my mouth.

I barely slept from the noise in Delhi. The Cottage Yes Please is situated behind a market and I can feel the buzz of a city that doesn’t sleep. A horse clomps around the corner and dogs bark in a frenzy every few hours. It is hot and the fan or air conditioning unit is really loud. I wake up and look out the window, spying a chai vendor across the road. I really want to go down and get some tea but for some reason I am paralysed by fear. I want to stay in this room until the driver comes to take me to Rishikesh. I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I think I am a little psyched out by all my friends and family worrying about me and telling me to be careful. Obviously the world is just unsafe and I would have been better off to just stay within the womb instead of making the bold gesture of being born! I get annoyed at myself and at the conditioning influencing me. You can worry all you like, family, but you know as well as I do that I have as much, if not more, of a chance of getting viciously attacked in my own neighbourhood back in Sydney as I do here in Delhi. Finally I shake off the fear and frustration and wonder down to the chai stand. This tiny cup of hot, spicy tea costs me less than 13 cents and is possibly the most delicious liquid I have ever had the pleasure to imbibe. I sit down on the plastic chair and slowly sip away as I watch the world go by. The one thing I am eternally grateful for is that nobody says boo to me. Obviously they are used to the wide-mouthed foreigners, but it is such a relief not to have someone sit down next to me and try to strike up a conversation like they would in Bali, Padang, Mexico or even Sydney. Maybe nobody speaks English. After another round of tea and a pastry finger, I wonder away through the market. The lassi vendors call out to me and make me regret filling up on chai. Taking a photo of a temple, I see a black cow out of the corner of my eye. It ducks behind a truck and I look around, thinking I have gone mad- why the hell would a cow be hiding behind a car in a busy street? Then I remember I am in India. Why the hell WOULDN’T a cow be in a busy street?

The drive to the Sadhana Mandir Trust, Swami Rama Ashram, Rishikesh is about six hours of constant horn-blowing, ox-carts, rickshaws, dust, huge buses and motorbikes. The driver barely speaks any English so I am left to dodge back and forth across the backseat, trying to take photos of anything I can, but eventually I give up and just sit and watch. I wish somebody would invent camera sunglasses so I can press a button that takes a picture of what I see. Maybe they exist in a movie? When we finally arrive at the ashram, I am shown to the room and have enough time to shower before more chai. I am onto the fourth cup of the day and it still tastes amazing!

After tea, I go for a walk along the Ganges river. I have dreamt about this river for years. Thousands of birds call out in the setting sun and mysterious animals sound their calls from the jungle across the river. My favourite sight is the women in saris. The women dress so beautifully, with such attention to detail. I can’t imagine an Indian woman every wearing a mismatched sari. The colours are all so vivid and bright. They say that there are as many different spiritual paths as there are people, and I think the same thing could be said of saris.

At 6pm I attend the Aarti, an evening puja by the river. The Rishi comes down in his white robes, a red line down the centre of his forehead. With a clank, he places a cloth bag down beside a tray of incense and cups of herbs and sugar balls. He gets knee deep into the water and pulls out some weeds, cupping water and throwing it away, as though clearing this small section of river. He throws water over his own head and drinks some, then calls out to us in Hindi to do the same. I follow the lead of my new friend Ameeta, who is from Bangalore. She is roughly mum’s age and has a daughter my age so she takes me under her wing. I wimp out of drinking the water, but put a dab on my lips, contemplating the fine line between holy and shit. I figure a few water molecules are bound to make their way into me. The Rishi passes us a cup of red paste and we flick it into the water, then a pink flower that we hold in our prayer mudras, facing the holy river as he chants. After the flower is tossed, we are given tulsi basil and then sugar balls, with the same process. We pass around the incense and then a tray of burning ghee. I don’t know any of the chants, but when the om comes around, I chime in enthusiastically. In quiet meditation I keep opening my eyes, hearing the call of a peacock in the distance and watching the Rishi beside me. I can’t keep my eyes closed, I just want to drink in everything – the sights, the sounds, the smells… everything except the river water. Finally the Rishi passes the red paste to a large woman in a turquoise blue sari and she places a dot on each of our foreheads. When she reaches me, she applies the red paste and then gives my spiky head an affectionate pat. The Rishi uses his small stick to spread the paste upwards and then gives us some sugar balls, tulsi leaf and water to take. He adjusts my hands, mumbling, and I understand the word ‘mudra’, as he pushes my thumb into the centre of my palm. I walk away feeling as though my heart has just been ripped open. I feel terrified again at the magnificence of this feeling and the enormity of what I am doing. My heart has been ripped open and so has my mind, but that is exactly what I came here for.

After a dinner of Kichari, the seven people attending the Self Transformation Program meet in the meditation hall and are greeted by our ‘guide’, a self-proclaimed ‘monk-key’. He doesn’t lie when he calls himself radical. He loves palindromic sentences such as “stillness in motion; motion in stillness” and tells us that when “everything is changing, one must change everything!” He promises to kill the ego and give us the experience, because learning is not possible without the experience. He insists we refer to ourselves in the third person, stripping away attachment to who we think we are. When he asks in which position we like to meditate, assuming that everyone sits, I say that I prefer to stand. I have no idea why I say this because even though I really enjoy a standing meditation, more often than not I sit or lie down or move. I probably said it just to be backwards, but it has backfired on me because now I have to go through with it. After the meeting, we are sent to our rooms with the warning not to emerge after 10pm until the vegetarian dogs get used to our scent. We must practice silence when not in the discussion times and are only permitted to read three prescribed texts. Our teacher wants to move us from unconsciously unconscious to consciously conscious. As I stand and meditate before my lit candle, I think of the Standing Babas who spend their lives on their swollen feet for god. It really is more comfortable than sitting, though.

Due to the intensity of the course, we are no longer permitted contact with the outside world. I don’t know what will happen in the next three weeks, but I imagine it will be a huge transformation. I have the Doors’ song stuck in my head: “Break on through to the other side!!”