Day 273 to Day 279 – solitude

Day 273 – the healing power of food

My brother, his wife, Vero, their little princess, Bella and Oscar (who is presently still a bump), come today, which basically means an endless stream of conversation between my sister-in-law and myself. Vero’s cousin was married only recently. Her husband has had Hodgkin’s for most of his life and recently fell sick again soon after their wedding. Recently, though, they began a raw food, vegan, organic diet. When they told his doctors about this detox, the doctor dismissed it, saying they may as well say goodbye and give in to the disease and instead suggesting another round of chemo and radiotherapy. The decided to try the diet anyway and what has followed could be called a miracle or perhaps common sense… Not only did his health improve, but swelling went down, test results came back with dramatic differences and he is fast on the road to recovery. Vero’s cousin can’t wait to go back to the doctors and show them that they were wrong, so wrong. What we now call “raw” and “organic” and “biodynamic” is what a hundred years ago was called simply FOOD. Unfortunately, for most people, what we consume is far removed from the original plant that nature gives us. Yes, nature provides gifts as food and humans have found the most cost-effective way to ruin it with chemicals, pesticides, hormones, toxins and anything else that will cause mass-production, increase in yields and therefore, larger profits. I could go on, but we have heard it all before. The best books I have read on the subject were by Michael Pollan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which traces the origins of four meals, from organic, to groceries, to McDonalds is a well-researched eye-opener on the corruption and deception that is the modern food market. The documentary Food Inc. is based on this book. Pollan’s other book, In Defence of Food has some great ideas as to how to best avoid the trap of clever marketing and chemical bombardment, such as,

–       never feed yourself where you feed your car

–       avoid supermarkets

–       if you must go to supermarkets, stay around the edges, where the freshest food is likely to be- kept cold

Not everyone believes that our food could be causing cancer, or that it has the capacity to heal it and I am sure some people are blissfully ignorant, or choose to stay that way. Maybe one day people will wake up. Maybe one day organic food won’t be so expensive. Maybe one day we will stop spending money on cars and instead buy seeds. Maybe one day cancer will mutate into the zombie virus and the whole world will end, thus forcing us back into simple farming practices in order to survive. Maybe I digress…

 

Day 274 – I will miss you

I am no stranger to separation. I am not afraid of being alone. Actually, I quite like being alone. For someone with such a wide social circle, who clearly likes to be heard/read, I also very much enjoy quiet solitude. In the past month, I have spent almost every day with him. We have indulged in each other’s presence and now that he is leaving for a few weeks, I know that I will miss him. But I also know that I will be fine. I am not the kind of girl to go crying into my corn flakes because I am alone. Actually, when he rings at midnight, half asleep, I mumble something about how great it is to stretch out and take up all the room in my double bed. Sorry! Yes, I miss you already, but I know how to make the most of a situation. I know how to embrace change, embrace solitude and be on my own. Finding myself quietly sitting in my room, I remember all that time I spent alone in India, with only myself as my guide. I was my own best friend, my own teacher, my own student, my own listener. I knew I had family and friends far away but I was there for myself when I needed myself the most. Here, I am surrounded by people and sometimes all I want is to be alone! Yes, I will be excited when you get back, but I get to keep myself company right now. And you know me; I am pretty damn fun to hang out with.

 

Day 275 – the food predicament

No wheat.

No dairy.

No sugar.

No alcohol.

My brother’s cupboards… There lurks temptation. It comes it all shapes and sizes; tiny chocolate coated teddy bear shapes, flat, square biscuit shapes, long stringy cheesey things, “all natural” yogurt and on the bottom shelf… oh god is that a chocolate cupcake? I am starving by the time I get there and nobody is home. I have to find something to eat quickly before I dive head first into the jar of nutella. I find frozen vegetables and half packet of quinoa that I left in there from the last time. That will do! I whip up a stir-fry and relax. But I know the nutella is there.

I can resist anything but temptation

–       Oscar Wilde

No wheat.

No dairy.

No sugar.

No alcohol.

Well, nutella has no wheat. It has very little dairy… It is about 50% sugar… but at least it isn’t wine! Just one spoon… And I cave. Sometimes you have to cross over to the dark side.

 

Day 276 – Nan Tien Temple

I can’t believe how many times I have driven past this place and never stopped. Finally I am standing before the enormous Buddha at the front gate. He is beautiful in the hot sun. The grounds are immaculately kept, with perfectly trimmed lawns, littered with tiny child-like Buddha’s in tai-chi poses. The flowers are in full-bloom despite the humidity and at the main temple, incense pours down the stone steps. This is apparently the biggest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere. I slowly enter the temple where the tall Buddha stands, surrounded by tiny candles. The walls are covered in gold blocks with Chinese characters carved in red. I look up at the smiling face of the enlightened one. And I cry. I buy a small candle to make an offering and choose the WISDOM card. I stand and pray to Buddha. I pray for the strength to take me away from my vices. I pray for the insight to follow my dharma. I pray for the universe to guide me on my path. I pray for my shadow that occasionally takes me away from the light. In temples, making offerings, praying, crying. How many times this year have I found myself doing this? What happens in these holy places that causes such an emotional reaction? It isn’t sadness. It isn’t fear. It isn’t loss. It is like the feeling of the divine becomes too much for me to handle and I just crumble. Maybe it is the ego that is afraid. Maybe it is sad for its own loss? I don’t know, but when I leave the temple I sit outside and collect my broken self together. I check my mascara and move on. Crying is a huge spiritual release. If there is an emotional block, crying can move energy from spaces where it becomes trapped. I do feel better, but I also feel like I have asked myself so many more questions that 276 days into this bliss project, I know that I am only at the beginning. I know who I am now, I know myself and I have learned to love myself this year. But I am barely scratching the surface of this life long path. There is still so much to learn.

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Day 277 – tired of my own game face

I am tired. I am drained. I see a dead pigeon on the pavement today and, in a daze, I take a photo of it. I am thinking pigeon pose- Raja Kapotasana. I am so spacey, I put my keys in the fridge and then stand staring into the freezer for what seems like an eternity. There isn’t any food in there. In this world I feel like I have to have my game face on all the time. I want to switch it off. I want to hide. I want to get away. My friends are begging me to go out, but I am tired. I am PMSing. I go to bed and can hear them asking about me outside my room. Sometimes it feels like everyone wants to share your light, and you give it away until your flame is barely flickering. It is my responsibility to hold my fire, to keep it alight. It is my turn to take care of myself and stay in bed, to rest. Grateful to this wisdom that has kept me home, I fall asleep.

 

Day 278 – solo mission

The Blue Mountains are thick with fog as I drive down to Megalong Valley. Clearly, my Apple Maps have never been here before because it wants me to drive down Six Foot Track. It is a dirt running track. Hmmm… My instinct had me going further down the main road, so I decide to follow it. Eventually I find the right signs down to the valley. As I descend, the fog clears completely and I see the lush green cascading over the road. It is like entering another world. I reach the campsite and there is still plenty of light. I throw up the tent and then sit on a tree stump, listening to the birds. In the dusk, their song fills my heart.

In the dark, I heat up a can of soup to keep warm. In my tent, I have a head-lamp on as I read Hindu stories of the gods. I can hear the noise of the crickets, lulling me to sleep. Finally I have peace, solitude and nobody but myself.

Bliss.

 

Day 279 – birds

I wake up to the song of birds. The rain stopped in the night and the small log I turned over last night is still dry underneath. I eat a quarter of a watermelon over my hot tea and stare at the sunlight coming through the trees. The air is fresh and cool and I feel myself in a sacred space down here. The birds bring up the sun, flying like souls to the heavens. I have always had a passion for birds. I remember the first bird that I ever noticed and, wondering what it was, looking up a bird book. It was a great black cormorant. My favourite sounds are Magpies in the mornings, Whipbirds in the bush and Kookaburras at dusk. I have a tattoo on my back of a quetzal bird. It is native to Central America and Mexico and is the national bird of Guatemala. It is a symbol of freedom as it is near-impossible to keep in captivity as it will stop eating to commit suicide. To the Mexica people, its feathers were more valuable than gold. If I could be any animal, it would be a bird.

 

I pray to the birds.

I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward.

I pray to them because I believe in their existence,

The way their songs begin and end each day,

The invocations and benedictions of earth.

I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear.

And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen.

–       Terry Tempest Williams

 

 

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Day 125 – the beauty of Vrindavan, Agra and Miss India

After the continental hotel breakfast, Pri and her friend Ashley and I leave Delhi. I have missed hotel food like this but I can’t help but feel guilty that I get to enjoy this luxury. It feels so far from my spiritual purpose and from the rest of India.

We stop in Vrindavan to see a 400-year-old Govinda temple where we have to keep our glasses in our pockets. The guide has told us that the monkeys will take our eyewear straight off our faces, so as we enter the temple he grabs a 3-metre pole to keep the primates at bay. The guide then leads us to the Yamuna River and speaks quickly about its significance. We ask to get closer to see it and maybe put our hands in it and although he says yes, he turns around and takes us straight back into the home of Krishna where we wash our hands with the water from the holy Yamuna River anyway. We don’t buy the garland of jasmine flowers, but continue in through the tiled walls. Each tile is inscribed with the names of families that have made considerable donations to the temple. The guide leads us in a prayer at a non-descript corner and then into the room where Krishna apparently rested after battling the cobra in the Yamuna river. In this room, a priest sitting before a curtain speaks in a barely audible whisper in what we believe is a prayer. Suddenly, in one swift dramatic gesture, he flings back the sparkling curtain, revealing a setting of statues that include the baby Krishna, his parents Vasudheva and Yusodra and the black-faced incarnation of Yamuna. The priest then he pulls out his receipt book and is asking our names. I am so grateful Pri is sitting next to me; she is switched on enough to realise exactly what he is doing. He is trying to get us to repeat that we will donate over 11,600Rs ($232 USD) for our own family tiles. He tells us that the donation will go to the widows home, feeding them while they pray endlessly over the inscriptions of our names. I start to feel guilty that I haven’t brought my wallet with me (who thinks to bring a wallet to the temple), so that I can’t even make a small donation but the priest quickly becomes frustrated when Pri refuses to agree to pay the 11,600Rs. He becomes argumentative before reluctantly finishing the blessing, tossing a jasmine garland over our heads and giving us a small spoon of sugar to eat. He all but kicks us out of the holy home of Krishna. As we re-emerge into the street amid the stalls hawking images of the young blue god and his trademark flute, the smells of open sewerage and the roaming gangs of monkeys, Pri tells the guide as he walks too quickly that Hinduism is not about that. The guide seems annoyed and as we get caught behind a rickshaw, we lose him for a moment in the winding back streets. He finally turns around and yells at us to keep walking through the crowd. We hurry back to the car. Apparently it is too late in the day to stop at Mathura, so we leave immediately for Agra and I am glad to be leaving Vrindavan.

As we enter the city of Agra, I am suddenly filled with this overwhelming feeling of pure love. I am about to see the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, one of the greatest monuments of marital devotion and the image of which I have been staring at in travel magazines for years. Here I am, entering Agra, about to see this incredible building. I almost want to cry with joy. The white dome comes into view in the distance. Although it looks like a mosque, it is actually a tomb for the second wife of Emperor Shah Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to their 14th child.

At the hotel, we see a sign that says Miss India will be visiting so we make a point to dress up and then smiling at the concierge at the door, end up inside the private party. We accidentally sit in the VIP section and with a mouthful of free samosa we have to answer an official about which group we are with. Trying to think quickly, I say we are journalists and Ashley mentions the name of an American magazine. It seems her English has momentarily confused the official, who politely asks us to move to the media section. We endure the painful dance routine, wait through the short fashion show and the awkward silences on stage before Miss India finally emerges in a long sparkling purple gown. We take a photo of her and then move on to dinner as the real media circle the stage.

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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).