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).

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Day 107 – Day 111

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Day 107 – a bit of positive ju-ju

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

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

Day 108 – Japa Mala

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

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

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

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

Day 109 – the default world

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

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

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

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

Day 110 – summing up the STP

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

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

Close your eyes and you will see clearly.

Cease to listen and you will hear truth.

Be silent and your heart will sing.

Seek no contact and you will find union.

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

Be gentle and you will need no strength.

Be patient and you will achieve all things.

Be humble and you will remain entire.

– Sri Swami Rama of the Himalayas –

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

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

Day 111 – river of tears

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

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

Why am I crying?

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

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

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

–          Swami Rama

Day 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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