The 365th Day

It has been an amazing journey, to say the least. If I think back to the person I was when I thought up this whole idea there are many ways in which I can say that I have changed. I remember standing in the café I was working at, around this time last year and thinking there has to be more to this life than this work and misery cycle. I thought I was saving my money to go back to Indonesia, but I never made it back to the boat where I had spent the previous two years. What happened instead was that I took the first step towards my true self and from there on was led to some of the most life-changing places, moments and people I have ever known. I remember being the kind of girl who was hiding behind her long hair, a little uncertain of her place in the world, insecure, anxious, with no conception of who she was. I had lost my sense of self in a co-dependent relationship and had stopped listening to my inner voice. I remember when I began meditating, how difficult it was to get through five minutes! I was detached from reality, unconscious of the pulsating rhythm of life. I remember being the kind of person that was surprised by spontaneous happiness. What kind of human condition has set us on course to accept infinite sadness as the norm?

I was supposed to be getting married, settling down and becoming the quiet and sedate house[boat]wife. Instead, a tiny voice inside told me to go to India and as I waited for the plane to Mexico, I booked a one-way ticket to Delhi. It was the greatest feeling, knowing I had finally made the decision to go somewhere alone, knowing that I was finally directing my own life. Even as I travelled through Mexico, I remember feeling like I was being dragged along on someone else’s trip. I wasn’t the leader on my own path until I separated from that situation, that person and from the expectation that people around me had.

That pinnacle turning point of the break-up, where I had stood in front of my fiancé and watched him cry and scream and all I could hear was that tiny voice inside telling me I was doing the right thing. To watch another human being suffer is always hard; to know that you have caused their suffering is even harder. Had I stayed, I would have withered and died. I was lost and unhappy in that situation and although there will always be good memories from that time of my life, I never once doubted my decision.

Celebrating the Hindu new-year in the Gedong Ghandi Ashram in Bali, a day of silence showed me how useless all these words had become. I had been to that ashram once before at the beginning of that relationship and then I returned there at the end, the whole experience framed in time by a sense of peace and a reminder that I could only walk this part of the journey alone, because I was all that I needed. Shaving my hair off was like the final shedding of the old self, the abandonment of ego, vanity and superficiality. It also made travelling really easy when I didn’t have to carry around shampoo and conditioner.

Going straight into the Sadhana Mandir ashram in Rishikesh, India, was a confronting and liberating experience. Our teacher, who I aptly named Rafiki after the wise witch doctor baboon from The Lion King, was full of energy, three letter acronyms and bewildering enlightenment. He tore apart our social conditioning and handed us back, bare and naked to see truth in ourselves. I remember crying in the temple, begging Swami Rama to make sense of it all. What was I doing here? What had I done? I just shaved my head and broke off my engagement to come here and be yelled at for closing my eyes when I meditated. All those questions were never answered; they simply became obsolete. I will never forget the coolness of the holy mother Ganga as I stood in the blistering hot sun, a light veil over my head, feeling the coolness creep up from my feet. Or the colours of pink and purple in the dawn as I let my hair go with the current of that holy river. When the course in the ashram was over, climbing to the source, to the Gaumukh glacier I faced the divine and saw only love and forgiveness. After trekking for 19km up to 4000m in altitude, I felt like I had to offer this place something of myself, so I threw in my engagement ring and let go of my old self, of that old life.

Everyone I met in India became shining beacons of hope. I had gone through an incredibly emotional time by myself, with little contact to the outside world, so each of those friendships were connections to the divine. I started to see the light in every person I spoke to. Suddenly the world was shimmering as though it was on fire; I could see life force in everything.

Coming back to Sydney was hard. I felt displaced. I no longer had a room, had lost friends because of the last relationship and was in a kind of limbo about whether to stay or just go back to India or skip on over to Africa… until I met Krystle. My best friend, the strong independent and slightly crazy woman who loves herself so fiercely she barely needs anyone else. But she has me.

Working in bars again was completely against my yogic lifestyle, but I was now entering the Persephone phase. I had to spend some time in the darkness re-planting the seeds of my life so that I could once again grow into the light. I had to explore my shadow side to understand every side of me. What I found was an incredible resilience and strength. I camped in the snow and hauled a sled full of human waste up a 2km slope, carrying a 10kg pack. I ran the City 2 Surf, a 14km race that I had never even thought about before. I looked at a new job as a wine rep and just went for it, with enough confidence to just take it. Anything I wanted, I could manifest. I made mistakes and I forgave myself. More importantly I learnt how to love myself unconditionally. Even when the rest of the world turned against me and started to criticise my life choices, I couldn’t help but be grateful for every moment.

And then it happened. Just when I was telling someone that I wanted to stay alone and single for ten years… I met him. I resisted and struggled against the most powerful force until finally I realised that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. In that funny little place called love. The universe had not steered me wrong and as long as I listened to my inner voice (which had by now become a lot louder), I wouldn’t get lost again. I sat by the south boat ramp in Malabar, a place I had called home for years, and told Matt that I loved him. And he loves me. He is the kind of person that wakes up with laughter every day, who is so full of light that he can make the world smile just by entering a room. In this person I see reflected all the things I love in the world; goodness, purity, energy. And he is the yin to my yang. He is organised and tidy while I lean towards chaos and erratic disorder. He keeps me grounded when I am in danger of floating away and maybe I add a touch of flight where he is in danger of being too structured… We fit together in every way and I am no longer so terrified of this love. I have managed to let go of fear, of future expectations and past projections. Just being in the now, I can see that there is nothing to be afraid of.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on meditation, or yoga. In fact, I gave up teaching yoga the more I learnt about it, until I felt that I could teach in an authentic manner. I don’t pretend that my spiritual journey is over or complete. All I know is that I had to lose everything in order to gain everything. I had to delve deep inside my lightest and darkest and most honest moments in order to truly learn how to love myself. I had to learn to be happy alone. From the person that was constantly surprised when happiness would creep up, I now wake up and am overcome with joy and gratitude for everything that I have in my life. I am awake, conscious and aware of each breath.

I learnt a lot about myself and about the world this year. I learnt that to find peace, I have to stay in the NOW. The past and future do not matter and there is only ever this moment. I learnt that gratitude and manifestation are valuable tools in the pursuit if happiness. I learnt how to become aware of my breath and use it as a tool to keep me anchored into the present. I learnt that emotional energy is the same below the neck; that the mind has a strong influence over our experience over the world and when we learnt to harness it, we can choose the course of our lives. I learnt that to walk the path toward spiritual learning is not always straight and narrow, but wide and curving, up hill and through dark forest. It may not always be clear but when you allow the inner voice to be the guide, it is easy to find the way. I learnt that the only two certainties in life are death and change and to embrace change is to accept the natural flow of the universe. I learnt how to exist in this flow so that I no longer feel resistance to the universe.

And I learnt that nothing is more powerful than love.

At the end of each year I write down my achievements for the year and some goals for the next year. It is always interesting to see how much I have achieved from the goals of the previous year. I found this list and I can tick the 365 Days in Bliss, I also wrote GO TO INDIA! Big tick there… I also found a page at the back of a diary I wrote in last year:

When I woke up today I lay in bed and witnessed my breath. Drinking in te prana, I found stillness and the highest form of meditation, I felt momentary Samadhi; bliss.

If someone came up to me and said, “Who are you?” my answer would be silence.

To just BE is who I am.

So Hum.

I also make a point to write down my gratefuls. I don’t think I could list them all. I am grateful for everything. From this loving man beside me to the sun shining on my leg, to the air in my lungs. This year may have started off as a search, a struggle for bliss. Now it is easy to recognise bliss all around me, to see the divine in everyone and everything, to make every moment sacred. What began as a meditation separate from life has turned into making life a meditation.

Finally I would like to thank all of the people who helped me this year. From my friends and family who were encouraging and kept avidly reading throughout, to the teachers who came into my life and made an impression. I would also like to thank all of those who donated to the I-India project when I cut my hair and to the beautiful people at I-India for showing me around the projects. Also thank you to Sascha and all the girls form Yogatime for accepting me as a teacher when I got back from my travels, to Rosie and all the girls at Embrace for their friendship and help with meditation tools and finally to my mum for… everything. From the bottom of my heart and soul I express deep gratitude and honour for this journey and to myself for having the courage to turn up every day and make something out of nothing, and to be brave enough to write about it with open honesty.




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Day 140 – everything changed in India

I am ready to leave the guesthouse at 4.30am, but when I get downstairs the gate is locked and the owner is not answering his phone. When the taxi arrives, I have no other choice but to climb the fence. Is it some kind of sign that I shouldn’t be leaving? I am more than excited to get home and see my family, but I also have a feeling that they will need to physically force me, kicking and screaming, through the airport and onto the plane. I wake up early to do pranayama but there is enough time in transit with nothing much else to do but to meditate. I practice a grounding meditation I did once at the start of this journey, over four months ago when I left Sydney. I imagine a thread of light extending form the crown of my head, down through my body, out my feet and deep into the earth, all the way to the core of the planet.

Before I board the third and final plane that will take me back to Sydney from Bangkok I start chatting to a couple of Swiss guys. One of them asks if my trip to India has changed me. As I nod with a smile, I go back to that moment in January when I sat at the airport in Sydney, waiting for a plane to take me to Bali. How different everything was back then. How different I was then.

“Yes, I have changed.”

“In what way have you changed?”

Unprepared for this conversation with a stranger, I blurt out the most honest answer that is available, “Everything. Everything has changed. I have changed entirely.”

When I left Sydney, I was erratic, half full of anxiety, entirely too full of negative thoughts, my hair was long and I was engaged. Now I feel relaxed, centred, excessively optimistic, my hair is short and I am single. Going to Mexico, I realised just how different my spiritual path was to the path that I was on with my fiancé. We had a great time, but I didn’t get to do all the things in Mexico that I wanted to do. I went back to Sumatra feeling once again way too dependent on my partner to keep me happy. I put unfair expectations on him and then when we were separated, I became despondent and by the time I got to Bali, I gave up my power to my shadow by drinking. I was still practicing every morning but with less energy and less prana. After one more week in Bali, trying to find balance I retreated to an ashram and after practising a day of silence for Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu new year, I went to the local salon in Candidasa and shaved off all my hair. By the time I left for India, I had to say a final goodbye to my fiancé, knowing that my spiritual journey had now led me away from our path together and onward on my own. A part of me had no idea what I was doing and I still remember that crippling fear I felt on that first morning in Delhi when I didn’t even want to leave the hotel. Then, meeting our teacher at Sadhana Mandir Trust, the man who shook my world up, yelling out his TLA’s (three letter acronyms) and demanding that I speak about myself in the third person. Three weeks later and I knew that everything in my life had led me to that point. Trekking up to Gaumukh was the single most life changing moment. As I ascended the final metres, I felt that descending force pulling me up and into the frost tipped mountains. Seeing that frozen glacier, I felt like I had entered the kingdom of heaven. They say that Ayers Rock, in the centre of Australia, is the solar plexus chakra of the world. Well then, the Gaumukh glacier must be the world’s crown chakra. It is a physical place where you can reach out and touch god. As I continued through India, praying at temples and visiting ancient forts, I felt the energy of the ancient land, its rich history culminating to create this world of myth. Meeting the children of I-India I was inspired by the people of this world who, despite having no water, no food, no family or no clean clothes; have undying faith in god, and radiate brightness and joy and dance through life anyway. Watching the Bollywood movie with my friends, I realised how different Australian culture was and how lucky I was to be born in a country where freedom of expression is upheld and even if we have no vegetarian burger available at McDonald’s, we at least consider an ‘honour’ killing a punishable crime.

I left Australia with false expectations, attachments and anxieties. I touched the ground of my ancestors. I enjoyed the luxuries and sensory pleasures of Bali. I entered India with fear, was blessed by the Ganges, my ego was burned to the ground, I was chased by a monkey, I walked straight above the clouds and into heaven, I rode an elephant and danced with the beautiful street children of Jaipur. I have become closer to myself than ever before and now feel that my purpose in this lifetime is to search for enlightenment.

What has changed? Besides my body, my mind, my soul, my path? What hasn’t changed as I fly around the world at high speed and high altitude? Well there is no sign of it slowing down. Whether I join a friend and drive/camp to Western Australia, go back to India, Africa, the Morocco or London. I can’t go back now. I have drawn a line in the sand and the only place to go is to keep moving forward. When everything is changing, you have to change everything.

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Day 134 – I-India street schools and Women’s shelter homes

Today is my last day with I-India. They have promised to show me the last of the projects including the street schools and the women’s shelters. We get into the back of the jeep and drive through dusty lots where the makeshift huts begin to appear. They are mostly made of tarpaulin and canvas sheets laid over plank wooden and stick frames. At the centre of this desert community we pull up beside the school, which is a simple hut with no walls, covered in canvas. The children are sitting in the shade. Some have torn clothes and one child is sent out to go and put some pants on. They have little, but besides some dry scabs that are typical of children who play in hot dry weather, they are clean and healthy. I-India brings shower facilities every two days, as the nearest water is a few kilometres away. There is a group of goats bleating in the next hut as the children get up for some yoga. I go through some basic stretches, warrior two and finish with a balance. They laugh uncontrollably, especially when I ask them to stand on one leg. As we prepare to leave, Kavita from I-India asks them to recall any of the yoga I showed them. A few stand up and show us the tree, but I see one child absentmindedly pick up his foot and stretch it straight above his head. It seems these kids could show me a thing or two about yoga.

We move onto Vasihali, which is another street school. Similarly, it is built on the sand, amid the canvas and tarpaulin huts. This one, however, is a little bigger and has four walls, covered in blankets or gudris, and posters of the English alphabet. The room is crowded full of yelling children, chanting, “Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!” I enter and sit in the corner and slowly the children come over to talk to me. They speak endlessly, ignoring the fact that I can’t speak or understand Hindi. A boy named Sanjay comes and spells words for me. Curiously, they all have their names tattooed on their forearms in Hindi and in English. Just like the youngest girls all have the nose piercing, earrings and black kajal around the eyes to protect against the bad spirits. It is a strange sight to see a tiny child bejewelled with smoky eyes. Some children are completing a small test and there is much yelling as they hand their papers to the two teachers to mark. The teachers manage to keep control of the chaos and laugh at each other throughout it all. The children recite poems and songs and then the girls stand to show some traditional Banjari song and dance. It is beautiful to hear them singing together, their arms raised high and their hips shaking seductively.

I finish the day at the shelter home for women. There are two shelters in close proximity to each other and the first one that I enter is full of sleeping young girls. A couple of them wake up and we go through my basic Hindi. They sit around me and place sweets in my mouth. I can’t even tell what these sweets are; they are red and hard and taste distinctly Indian. One small girl, Devi, runs to her locker and comes back with pink blush on her fingers that she lovingly applies to my cheeks. “Pink colour,” she says, simply. I don’t think there is a single place on this planet where little girls are not taught to love the colour pink. As I am trying to get a good picture of these girls as they dash about the room, an elderly lady enters. Her name is Jaya. She speaks perfect English and sits on the floor with me to ask where I have come from. She asks what I have been doing in India and when I say that I came to study yoga at an ashram in Rishikesh, she is very excited. She is from Uttarakhand, which is nearby and tells me I have to go to Renagate when I come back to India. I make sure she writes it down for me but she writes it in Hindi so her note needs translation. She wants me to show her some yoga, not teach, more like perform, I move through the surya namaskars and she tells me that she can see I practice with sincerity. This is one of the most moving compliments I have ever received in my life.

After I eat, Jaya takes me to the other shelter. She asks if I want to have some mehindi, Henna, and I am surprised that I haven’t had this done already in my whole time in India. Excited I outstretch my left hand for Rajini, who is a talented artist. Kiran, who I met at Ladli last week, completes my right hand and then in a bustle, I am told I have to leave as the car is coming to take me back to the guesthouse. I don’t want to leave. I am so much enjoying the company of these girls. I try not to touch anything as the brown paste dries on my hands. In the car, Jaya tells me that she comes to the shelter every single day. She lives far away so she has to take two buses to get there. Such selfless service, such devotion to other people is rare in the west, but not in India. When people say karma yoga, the first person that comes to mind is usually Gandhi or Mother Teresa. Karma yoga is the act of service to each other as a means for serving god.

I have a list of things to do before I leave India, so I have had to regrettably cut short my time with I-India. I realise that the only discomfort I have felt when at Children’s Village, or at the shelters, is when I have been served like an honoured guest. In Australia, we only expect service like that when we are paying for it. We don’t really get the idea of selfless service. This cultural difference has become so apparent to me. Since the first time I saw the simple act of touching a respected person’s feet, I have seen that Indian culture is permeated with the essence of devotion to each other as embodiments of god. When one says ‘namaste’, it is not merely a greeting, but recognition of the divine light that resides within each being. I have felt that while visiting these children and young women that I have not been doing enough for them. In thinking of volunteer work, I wanted to be able to offer something of myself to them, but instead have felt like they have been the ones to enrich my lives, to feed me food, sweets and chai. They danced, sung and recited poetry for me and a part of me felt anxious at the idea of receiving so much and feeling like I gave so little. I guess that is part of my social conditioning to believe that I have to give back in order to receive. It is a difficult thing to break down those conditions and accept selfless love. To accept selfless love, in a way, is also to give selfless love.

If there is one thing I have seen with I-India is that it is an organisation built on selfless love and selfless service. From its birth with Mrs Abha’s rickshaw school-on-wheels, to the complex that is the Jhag Children’s Village, still in construction, this is a group of people who saw the needs of others and have devoted their lives to their service. Mr and Mrs Goswami have built their lives around karma yoga, around these women and children who radiate the divine luminosity of beings that are loved.

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Day 130 – Jhag Children’s Village

In the morning I have a message from Priti. She doesn’t tell me she misses me, as she feels we are always together. I love the sentiment but I have to hold back the urge to message back and say that I miss her too! Actually I have to hold back the urge to message everyone I know and tell them I miss them. I only have ten more days in India, but I guess with home almost in sight I am starting to feel my heart being pulled in the direction of Sydney. Just when I am missing my family most, my brother Oli, the Master of One-Word texting, sends me a long and much appreciated message of support, advice and simple wisdom; “Short journey. Live it well.”

I-India pick me up at 10.30am. Sitting in the office with Mr Prabhaker and Mrs Abha Goswami, my eyes wonder over the framed pictures of gurus around the room. One picture in particular catches my eye. It is titled ‘The 42 teachers of India’ and is set up similar to a school photo, with the names listed according to which row they are in. All the classical sages are there, including Sai Baba, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharishi and many others I have never heard of. After some patient waiting, we get in the car to drive the 40kms to the Jhag Children’s Village. This is the main project that I-India has created for the street children. On the way I ask Mr Prabhaker how I-India began.

Turning his gaze inwards, affectionately recalling the past that has led him to this point he begins, “20 years ago, I was a professor and my wife was a researcher. We began a research project to create a socio-economic profile on the street children of Jaipur and Jodhpur. That was a significant turning point in our lives as we realised how many children were living without shelter, without food, education or any proper care. Some were abused at the hands of their own family members and others were being forced to beg in the streets. We submitted the research and my wife was very disappointed to find that nothing was done about all this information. She began asking the children whether they would like to attend classes, if education was offered. Despite the mixed responses, she soon quit her job and gathering the teaching materials herself, she obtained a rickshaw and drove around to the areas where these children were and gave them basic education, food, sanitation and medical treatment right there in the street. This was the beginning of our School on Wheels program. Soon we were able to get our first buses and set up some mobile showers and classrooms.”

When we arrive at the village, the sun is already at its highest point and the sandy playground is deserted. The school principal welcomes me and takes me on a tour through the empty classrooms. There is construction happening all over the village; a second floor is being built on the school, an auditorium and a medical centre is going up. The young teachers are in a staff meeting in one section of the school and stand to greet me. I realise that this is the first time I have had a whole room of people stand up just to say hello to me. I wave awkwardly and to my relief, they eventually sit down. When we enter the boys’ home, two young boys of about 11 and 13 are waiting at the entrance. One has a dish on which he applies the blessing of red paste in the centre of my forehead and a small scattering of rice. He then takes a handful of pink flowers and throws them over my head. His shy smile is broad and welcoming and I say thank you in Hindi. They are about to turn and run away when I pull them back for a photo, which they obediently stand still for. I am given a short tour of the dorms and told that each child has their own bed. The medical wing at the back of the building is littered with some boys who don’t even look sick. When I ask the doctor what is wrong, he tells me that they are at the tail end of a chicken pox outbreak and these boys are almost better. Chicken pox already ruined my 11th birthday, so I am safe. Each of these boys sees the camera and demands I take a picture of them. The male ego appears to be universal.

In the girls’ home, I am welcomed with the same greeting. When I use my only Hindi sentence to ask the girl what her name is, she says, “Mera nam Priti,” and holds my hand to lead me through the tour.  I send a silent thank you to my friend Priti, who has sent this angel to guide me and remind me that we are never alone because we are all one. When I sit down amongst the girls, they crowd around me and using my single Hindi sentence, I ask their names. Realising I have no other way of communicating with them, I go through the numbers in English and in Hindi, then the colours.

Far too soon, I am told lunch is ready and taken back to the boys home where I sit alone amidst eight empty chairs and am served a never-ending plate of food. Chapattis are thrown at me and I worry that I am offending the cook when he looks concerned that I don’t accept the third helping of food. When I finish I realise that the strange look he gave me could have been because my face is probably as yellow as my fingers. Ever-grateful that I never go anywhere without baby wipes, I clean up and head to the boys’ play room. They seem more or less uninterested in me, so I approach a group of serious looking kids sitting around a board game. It is like a game of pool but with flat discs that kind of look like Casino chips. One of the boys has his focussed game face on while he gesticulates angrily at the board. Another of them who was arguing his point finally gives up and laughs and they resume playing. Satya, who was one of the two who gave me the greeting blessing, pulls a tiny picture out of his shirt pocket. The picture is of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant headed deity who seems to be continuously appearing on this journey to guide me. From my teacher at Sadhana Mandir to this small child, this god of luck has appeared at all the significant points along the road, like a marker in the road that says “keep going, you’re on the right track!”

When someone asks why I have short hair, I pull out my iPhone to show a picture of me with long hair. They are shocked and keep asking if it is my sister. I say no and point at myself but they just shake their heads. One of them asks if this thing has music so I put a playlist on shuffle. The whir of the fans drowns out the sound, so I hold the phone to Vijay’s ear and he listens intently to Sweet Home Alabama. I ask if he likes it and he slowly nods, his mouth half open in wonder. When the song changes to Adele, though, he hands the phone back to me with a frown and a shake of the head. A 16-year-old boy named Arjuna sits down next to me. He speaks a lot more English than the younger ones and as he starts to ask questions his extreme Vata energy hits me. Suddenly I see myself how my teacher in Rishikesh must have seen me; talking quickly, randomly jumping from one thing to the next, standing then sitting and throwing hyper-flexible limbs around. He shows me the triangle pose and wants to know more. He demands three poses for getting taller, three for losing weight, three for memory and concentration and three for relaxation. When I am trying to explain meditation, Sanskrit comes in handy and I say “Dhyan”, to which he responds by whipping his legs into a cross-legged position and joining his thumb and first finger together. How long should he do this for, he asks, ‘five minutes?’ Then he asks how long he should sleep for, when he should practice, when he should eat. Mind you, about ten minutes has gone past while this rapid conversation has taken place. I am left a little dazed and confused by the speed at which he is tossing questions at me when finally a boy offers me a game of cup and ball. I am just glad nobody has asked if I want to play cricket. Being from Australia, there is always the risk someone will completely throw me if they mention Ricky Ponting. It’s not that I don’t like cricket… I just prefer to stick pins in my eyes while watching paint dry.  It’s right up there with ten-pin bowling on my list of top-ten things never to suggest to me.

After a couple of hours, some boys have taken themselves off for a nap in the dense afternoon heat. I decide to go back to the girls’ shelter home but find that they, too, have succumbed to the heat and lay sprawled all over the floor. Puja, the only one who is awake, quickly tries to wake everyone up to greet me, but I tell her not to worry and to show them that I don’t care if they sleep, I lie down on the carpet with them. A few with messy hair and that all-too-familiar look of “why the hell am I awake?” throw their bodies back onto the ground and resume napping. The small group around me lay down but eventually they become curious of the photos I am taking of them. Like male ego, female vanity transcends all places and the girls smile coquettishly. When they all start to wake up, Puja asks if I like music. I nod yes and they put on a DVD of Bollywood video clips. Several girls jump up, align themselves across the room and I am given a live concert of Bollywood dance and music. The older girls of 11 and 13 know most of the moves by heart and the younger ones follow along, moving their little hips in time. Another universal imperative in the world of girls; it is absolutely essential that I admire the Barbie doll collection. A smaller girl near me named Sunita falls silent as she stares at two Barbies. She smooths out their dresses and lays them next to each other. She seems to be studying them. Suddenly I wonder why they even have blonde Barbies in India. Shouldn’t they be olive skinned, with a long black braid and a sari? What kind of ideals and comparisons are these white-faced effigies creating?

In the car on the way back, the song playing on the radio is the same as the pop song that Puja and Priti were dancing to. It has been a long, hot day and I didn’t lift a finger in terms of “volunteer work”. I don’t feel like I gave anything, but rather gained so much. With the boys, I learnt more Hindi in two hours than I have learnt in over a month in India. With the girls, I saw what it is like to grow up in the current Indian pop-culture and I was welcomed and fed like a revered guest. I lay myself down to sleep at night with a simple prayer of gratitude and a vow to somehow help do more for these children of the world who despite having nothing, can radiate such bright hope and luminosity.

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Day 126 – the Taj Mahal

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We wake up early to get to the Taj Mahal before the tourist crowd. We are lucky to be here in the middle of the off-season so it is extremely quiet and we actually get photos of each other standing alone in front of the building. It is not too hot as the sun slowly rises around the four pillars and the marble glitters. It is so stunning. The inlay of black onyx, carnelian, mother of pearl, tiger’s eye, jasper, bloodstone and lapis lazuli are in intricate floral designs and verses from the Qu’uran.

After breakfast we go to see the Red Fort, which was a palace and then later a prison for Emperor Shah Jahan. As we walk through with the guide, my imagination does me the favour of filling the courtyards with bustling courtiers in sheer veils, jewel encrusted lords and politically weighted glances. I am not listening to a word the guide is saying. I snap back to attention but it is getting really hot and it is only 10.30.

We are taken to see some workshops where local artisans embroider velvet with silk and carve intricate marble and gemstone tables, plates and statues of gods and elephants, but by mid-afternoon we just go back to the hotel and its swimming pool. I start doing laps and realise how much I miss the ocean. I haven’t been immersed in water since Bali. Over a month. That is probably the longest I have gone without a salt-water fix. Within minutes my breath, strokes and mind find simple rhythm and I feel my mind return to the same focus and meditative state I used to get when I swam across the bay at Malabar. I finally get tired and get out to sit by the pool and read but the flies are driving me insane in the thick, hot air. I can’t read so I sit and stare at the bright blue water. I’m suddenly overcome with the knowledge that this spiritual path in starting to overtake everything else in my life. Suddenly, nothing else seems as important. Everything has been sacrificed for this journey to enlightenment; my relationship, my physical home, my university degree… Everything has just dissolved in this burning fire of desire for union with the divine truth that is the universe. Love has gone from the external as it now comes from deep within, money has become a means to walk the physical path in search of that consciousness, family and friends are either either supportive of my decisions or secretly think I’m crazy and yet I have never felt more alive, more close to that truth and more aware of my essential nature that permeates all illusion. After last night’s ‘supermoon’ I feel driven to pursue this spiritual passion has gone from a flickering candle to a raging inferno, illuminating my one true path.

Day 123- past, practice and pumpkin curry

I have spent most of the day staring at either the yoga mat or the computer screen and I’m starting to wonder if I didn’t waste my last day in Rishikesh. They serve a pumpkin curry at the ashram that they have never served before with some kind of pumpkin fritter ball floating around in it. Suddenly my small tummy decides it can fit in three bowls and I spend the rest of the day rolling around like a half filled water balloon.

It is evening when the four of us sit around and battle Mosquitos, spending our last evening together talking. As usual, the topic is life, yoga, meditation and the etcetera’s. My phone starts making noises and I’m singing along to AC/DC’s Back in Black for a few seconds before I remember that this is my ringtone. Wow. My phone hasn’t rung in ages!

When I answer it is the past calling and I have nothing meaningful to say. What happens when you let go of the past but it is still holding on to you? Guilt is what happens. I am condemning myself. How could you be so selfish as to move on, to grow and evolve, Liz? But if I didn’t come this far, if I never climbed that icy mountain, seen what I’ve seen, done the hours of practice that I’ve done or met these beautiful souls, would I be at this point where I can so easily speak my truth? I know the answer to that. The simple truth is P.P.P. practice persistence and patience.

You never step in the same river twice. I’m sorry for changing but “time grabs you by the wrist and directs you where to go.” (Yon pointed out the words to this Greenday song and said it made him think of me.)

Here I am, speaking my truth and that truth is that the past is gone, the future does not exist and all we have is NOW.

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


Day 112 to Day 114 – entering the default world again

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Day 112 – the first taste of the ‘default’ outside world

The program has ended this morning. Our final practice we do in complete silence, flowing into every asan and pranayam easily. Lunchtime comes and we say the first of our goodbyes. Pria, John and I get out of the ashram. Crossing Laxman Julle, again entering the throng of people, we feel more sensitive to the cognitive overload. It’s like we are little children thrust into the enormous world. Everything is even louder than last time, the colours are brighter, the sun is hotter and the flavours are stronger. We want to eat “something that isn’t yellow” and are on the hunt for burritos. Mangoes have just come into season so we have a bright yellow, sweet mango juice. I order a veggie burger but it is the fries that interest me most. They must have been dusted in turmeric because they are yellow. We get nachos but it still tastes like Indian food.

After lunch we go to the tall temple on the low bank, to the left of the bridge. We hand over our shoes and 5 rupees to go up. Each small room is filled with bright effigies of gods and goddesses. Pri tells us who they all are and we walk around ringing the enormous heavy bells. John finds a phallic Shiva sculpture and explains the symbolism of the oval shaped pot it sits in. Then he mimics the carved figure and hugs the phallus. What makes it more amusing is the Indian man that laughs at him, probably thinking he has no idea what he is doing.

We go to the banks of the Ganga and standing in the water, easily find a stillness from inside, away from the bustle of the market street. We may outside in the crazy world, but inside there is calm.

Day 113 – looking back on the Transformation of the Self

Shal, Pri and I have just practiced a Qi Gong sequence of healing sounds. It is amazing how the subtle vibrations can be directed with simple hand movements and single syllables. We are sitting at the river, waiting for the Rishi to come and do the evening puja of the Ganga Aarti. In typical IST, Indian Standard Time, it is a full hour and a half later than we expect so we stand at the water and practice. We are talking about the Program, what we gained and which practices we will definitely be continuing when we leave. Shal remembers when I first arrived that I told her I was terrified because I had just broken up with my fiancé and come to India on my own to find myself. It’s like someone has told me about something I did when I was a child. I had completely forgotten that feeling! Even Pri is stunned when we look at how much that energy has transformed.

Of everything that I have learned from yoga in the past three weeks and the past decade, I now know that it is all about the breath. We have been practicing 2:1 breath regulation. As soon as I wake up, before bed and as many times as I can throughout the day I find a clock and time my breath; exhale for ten seconds and inhale for five seconds. That is 4 breaths a minute, but the aim is to increase it so that eventually (in a few years) we are on one breath per minute. I also now use this 2:1 breathing when I jog or do anything dynamic, which is pretty much everything except yoga nidra. Using the breath to stay present has always been something I say when teaching a class, but it has taken on new meaning since I have been focusing the awareness on the dance of consciousness at the bridge between the two nostrils and looping the breath up my spine on the inhale and down my front on the exhale. Presence is easy to have when breathing in ujjayi all the time; it is like a whispering reminder of that “I” within.

Admittedly, I appreciate the systematic set-up we have to do for every meditation, however I do hope to find something that fits in with my personality as the year goes on. Looking at the past 113 days, I have had deeper moments of meditation and no-content than the days experienced using this method, which has been leaving me feeling more frustrated than enlightened the past few days. I can hear manas, the lower mind, and ahamkara, the ego, saying “it shouldn’t be this hard!” But that is because I have to keep them busy, running up and down my spine and dancing between my nostrils. I will continue practicing this way, though. At least until I find something that suits me a little better.

I like the style of movement we have done- the benefits to my spine are already visible. I am much more aware of my lumbar lordosis and constantly remember to feel my mastoid pivots in the back of my head are lifting in order to keep the spine elongated.

The language with which I speak has changed a lot. I hesitate to begin a sentence with “I think…”, which reaffirms the dominance of the mind. The theory side of how the mind works has been invaluable, especially realising that I can actually delete latent impressions and useless thoughts as they come up. I have realised that I have the power to Acknowledge, Accept and Release any thought pattern, negative energy, memory or emotion that comes up and is not meaningful or useful. At this stage referring to myself in the third person is still strange, but the internal dialogue has altered and the mind has started to say, “Elizabeth needs to brush her teeth…” instead of reaffirming the attachment to this temporary vessel we call the body.

I know that I suffer from serious FOMO- Fear of Missing Out, so I tend to want to get through the morning pranayamas faster than I should but every day I do them a little bit slower and I can feel more prana being harnessed through the practice. This is awakening so much subtle awareness in the breath, the body and the mind.

I have to remind myself to adjust my posture again and again and constantly tell my shoulders to relax. That is the practice of yoga- constantly coming back to the centre. It doesn’t matter how many times you get scattered by the wheel of ignorance or your mind floats off like a helium balloon, if you come back to the centre, elongate the spine, focus on the breath, then home is always closer than you think. As the Ganga Aarti begins, the three of us line up beside the young Rishi and each takes a flower as he chants the prayers. I feel alive, present and grateful.

Day 114 – defying logic of the gut

I wake up at 4.30am with my alarm and rush to the bathroom. The sounds from my stomach last night were a warning that this would happen, but I still had that hot chocolate and Kit-Kat after dinner. It is interesting to be aware enough to witness the mind work like that- it convinces itself that this unhealthy snack is nurturing in some way and then in the perfect clarity of hindsight wonders why the hell it did that! That is being consciously unconscious- I can see it all happening, but do not yet have the Power of Will to stop it. It is probably not the chocolate that made me sick, but the milk in the hot chocolate that I have had for the past 3 days. A bit of milk in tea isn’t a problem, but a 300ml cup of milk everyday is way more lactose than my intolerant gut can handle. So there has been a strike and I end up in the bathroom another 6 times before breakfast. I am given a teaspoon of psyllium husk in 4 spoons of yogurt and told it will help, so once again that conscious unconsciousness takes over and says, “Well then since you are having this, it is ok to eat that pancake type thingy with the spicy sauce. Better put another 3 teaspoons of spicy sauce on it just for good measure!”

I spend the rest of the day wilting in the heat… A small part of me is looking forward to Sydney. When I get home it will be winter. Wait, what am I saying? I hate being cold! Typical vata! The ironic thing about a hot day in India is how refreshing a hot cup of chai can be. It is one of the many paradoxes of this place.

I am excited today because I get to collect my mala beads. They have been behind the picture of Swami Rama in the meditation hall, picking up some residual morphic field energy. When I retrieve them, I sit down and holding them in my left hand, set up for my meditation. It is only ten minutes before my stomach orders me out again. It doesn’t matter how much the “I” wants to stay, when the stomach says go, it is time to go! It is strange trying to fit in a schedule when I am in limbo like this. We are about to leave Rishikesh on Wednesday to go trekking so keeping the daily Sadhana, spiritual practice, will become a little bit of a challenge. As long as I make a daily date with mySELF, then it will be easier to SOTP- stay on the path (and hope there are rest stops along this path).

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 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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