Thursday, April 9, 2009

Time, Take Two

Time has been changing. It snakes through daily events like a sine curve, waving and flaunting its fast and then slow undulations. I know this to be true. Remember I set out to India doing an experiment with time? It was one of the first posts to the blog: my wrist watch time piece ne'er wear confession. And it is time to report back.

I wore two watches when I landed on Chennai tarmac. I selected my Mother's watch, with brand new battery, to be the primary companion. I wore it every day and it got me on the walk to school early enough to arrive in the nick of time to claim my spot in the yoga room. For almost 2 weeks, it waved like the conductor's wand; I was duly orchestrated from without, but motivated for such mechanical guidance from within. It was a new thing, this watch-wearing, and that in itself made it interesting. But the watch got tired of playing the little game.

I first noticed its lag behind the rest of the two-handed band leaders at the end of the first week. I began modulating my trust in the metronome. I second guessed it and left early for things, which got me there right on time. I relied on it less and my inner clock more. Jet lag had simmered down and my interior chime was playing in tune with my movements in life. Besides, by the end of the second week, I noticed my buddy was playing freeze tag instead of Mozart. I traded it in for the Swatch my friend in Switzerland gave me. It had a new battery, too.

I opted for taking more control of this time watching. I wore the watch when I assessed the potential need to look at the time. It accompanied me on outings with friends to exotic places where we may want to coordinate time. It traveled with me for plane catching and event attending. And at the post office, where I hazarded the corrupt "civil servants" for the first time, the watch animated itself by flinging off its clear round face. It exposed its hands to the elements. As luck would have it, I happened to noticed this suicidal leap of the plastic face-window. I retrieved it and pressed it back into commission.

Over the next two months, Mr. Swatch periodically and randomly disrobed. It was always in a public place. I always noticed and found it. Until, of course, the last time. When I didn't find it. That was a couple of weeks before I left India. And that is when the time experiment started to get really interesting.

This watch continued to work, exposed to the elements as it was. But it began working in mysterious ways. There were times when it would stop. Then it would work again, but slower. Then it would speed up. Then it would seem to cooperate with the convention of time around us. I took to wearing it all time. And I watched it.

Time would stop when I entered the Matrimandir to meditate. It started again as soon as I left the sphere and her gardens. It would move conformed to GMT when I was riding the scooter around Auroville or doing mundane things like eating and tidying my room. It sped up during the Sanskrit lessons. And I never looked at it while I was doing my homework, so I guess time disappeared while I studied. I observed this phenomenon for three consecutive days. And more people asked me for the time than on any other span of days in the trip! I never knew what to tell them! When it was breakfast time, my watch might be ticking away at 11:20.

Time is relative, you see! That it dictates the whens of things in our life is an illusion. It is a great social agreement. It is a pact of those who organize the future into compartments that follow cause and effect rules. It is a deity worshipped and honored, throughout the day, every day. There are great sculptures, edifices, towers and bejewelled idols built as altars to it. But, still, it is relative to the mind that uses it for measure.

Rather than leap to its tick and tock, I have sincere respect for its talent at coordinating and bringing things together, but prefer to keep it in its place. I will bring it out when I need it and leave it switched (or swatched) off, like the TV darkened in the corner when there is nothing on that I want to watch.

This was a successful experiment. I learned what I already knew. And I would say more, but it is now time for me to grab my bag and head for the bus. I ride this Good Friday to Avebury, outside of London, to spend Easter amongst the circle of stones, the fields and dew illumined by the waning full moon, that orb, that keeper of time in the heavens, that maker of tides that move variably up and down the shores, that reflector of the sun who marks our years rolling through the Universe, that jester dressed in silver who rises sometimes early, sometimes late and sometimes not at all. The moon, time piece for the soul that sine waves across our skies, keeping pace with the Being, a watch for those who observe...

Friday, March 20, 2009


Back in November, I had a diary day that scribbled me to a working definition of the word "love." It is certainly a well-used and scantily understood word these days. I boiled my clarification down to two things. To love is to see and to allow. See all the layers, the beauty, the sloppiness, the mistaken identity, the being beneath the robes.... Allow the process, the flow and unfolding however replete with errors, blunders, misinformation, genius, artistry or lack of imagination. Allow the time it takes for whatever it is to blossom, drop away or take hold.

To see and to allow. Important in these two things is what is not being said. Seeing is not projecting. Allowing is not interfering.

But in the past couple of months, I realized there is something missing in this concise summary. When I love someone, I see because I look. I allow but I am interested. These things require engagement, action, consciousness.

Think of a baby who is starting to learn how to walk. It is such an important thing to learn and really, there is no way to teach this mode of locomotion! The Mother sees the child, watches for the progress and cannot speed up the child's process. The parent can move things potentially harmful out of the way, occasionally catch the tumble, cheer on the efforts, encourage with outstretched arms and provide band aids and healing kisses. But these things do not interfere with the unfolding, they are a support.

All the people I know are learning how to walk in one way or another. I cannot teach a thing about it, but when I have personal experience or knowledge, I can support by pointing out the slippery rug and being gentle when my dear one chooses not to avoid it. I can be aware by seeing the tears they won't allow to fall or by noticing the wisdom backed up by the light shining in their eyes. And I can remember that I do not know what is best for them, but still want them to have all the best that can be theirs.

This simple definition opens to a complexity that compels. I also find these two points to be applicable in every situation one might employ the word "love." Such as, "I love the mountains!" "I love you even when I don't like what you do." "I love President Obama!" and "I love you."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Facing Fears on a 2-Wheeler

I conquer fears while I travel. In Costa Rica, it was the fear of big waves in the ocean. I faced that fear by plunging into the surf when the mountains of moving water were merely foothills-great for me, not so ideal for the surfer dudes.

I faced the last man ever to attack me with a knife on a solitary stretch of beach 8-10Km from where I lived in Puerto Viejo. I had no fear and he kept looking at his machete making sure it was actually in his hand and pointed at me. By the end of that encounter, he was shoving the stuff into my backpack and insisting I keep the small hand full of Colones; which, by the way, was not enough to purchase a bus ride back to my house. I had to beg for help. A German couple looked at me in their own fear and ultimately, the folks earning roughly $2-$4 a day gathered enough coins together for my ticket.

In New Zealand, Mark instructed me on riding a small motorcycle through the fields of the farm where he lived. After a bad stop that tumbled me ass over kettle down the embankment beside the road, bike sliding in time with my out of control descent, I cultivated a justifiable fear of motorized 2-wheelers. But...coming to Auroville has changed all that. The red roads curve across the 20 square Km expanse of this Universal City, through trees and green belt, small villages and to the sea. I road my own scooter to an appointment for the tour of the temple here, a gigantic gold ball in the center of a vast open space peppered with flowers, grass and one banyan tree. It is called the Matri Mandir.

Inside the monolithic orb, I found other-worldly application of sacred geometry as the ramp swept in a spiral up to the round inner chamber. It was designed that one ray of sun always shines into the center of the temple. In the main meditation hall, there is a large crystal ball, the sunlight shines through it and reflects us, heads toward the earth, and dances light through moving clouds as we sit in stillness watching. The ray continues down to at least two lower floors, each with a smaller and smaller crystal. The smallest crystal lies beneath the sphere in the center of a lotus made of 216 marbles petals, 7 rows of 24 petals, taking the light into the earth. I have never seen, felt or been inside anything so magnificent. The Egyptian crypts, temples and pyramids pale in comparison to this place.

Having duly conquered the mo-ped and been amply rewarded by entering the sacred space, I found one more layer of scooter-fear. Could I ride someone on the back? Well, last night, I did just that. There was a dance at the Visitor's Center and my neighbor Melissa wanted to join me. Since I had discovered the secret to motor bikes is their ability to do all the work-all I have to do is stay on the seat and give it enough gas not to wobble-I was game for taking on a passenger. Well, not only was it a breeze, it made a breeze as we tooled on down the road to boogie for the evening.

While I have learned much in the art of packing for a trip, it is always preferable to travel light. And fears make for heavy luggage. Perhaps it is the convenience of unloading the extra weight that opportunities so often manifest on trips. Sometimes, I find fears that I didn't even know I had have been lifted. Giving up old ideas, pains and false-beliefs is truly a small price to pay for entering into the sacred place where light moves through me in a steady stream, uniting the earthly aspects of my being with the heavens. After all, what is there really to be afraid of but...fear itself!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Washing Clean

I've learned the art of hand washing. The secret is in the bucket and the agitation technique. Soap acts like fingers that reach into fabric and grab things, little bony taxi drivers for the dirt. I laundered the pants, tops (called kurtas) and scarves (dupatas) in Varanasi. I hung them on
curtain rods of the room where I lived beside the Ganges for a few nights.

Every morning, I sat on the roof and had my breakfast of boiled eggs and toast. Any moment: midnight, dusk, morning or noon, I could look to the fires burning not far from the guest house. Each fire signified the end of one life. Smoke rose into the air to travel down wind; ashes were scooped and poured into the waters to float down stream. In this way, the dead always inhabit Benares.

Throughout the day, I discovered the many ways folks of all ages could ask for, sometimes demand, money. The living are hungry and cunning in tactics. While circumnavigating the stupa built at Sarnath on the location of the Buddha's first teaching, my hands folded, eyes cast down, lips gently moving in mantra, tattered children approached me, shoving a trinket at me. Wild haired hags with filthy bodies clawed at my shoulders in front of the temple. Men would give me some common fact about where we were and then ask me for money. People charged and asked for more with stories I came to automatically doubt. Instead of passing out rupees to these impoverished beings, who usually complained at whatever amount was given, I would purchase small amounts of food and feed it to the dogs and puppies near the guesthouse. The Momma dog knew how to beg too, but it was easier for me to attribute that desperation to her speices than to my own.

I strive to find the beauty in each person, to look past the suffering, the rudeness, the inconvenience, my own guilt. I wanted to learn how to see the essence of the person despite the circumstance. This is my new commitment, to see the beauty. I do not want to identify with a person through their suffering or my own. I don't want to recognize them as their craving, their complaint, their striving, their personal tastes. I want to see the light in the heart of the starving and annoying beggar. Having seen the pristine Ganga close to her source, I don't want to define her by the chunks of ash, garbage and desperate false hope. In the moment, her waters are rushing towards the Bay of Bengal, reflecting color to the sky, cooling the humid air above her. She is water.

And as I smell the scent of smoke in my newly washed clothes, I want to smile. In a few minutes, I can wash them anew. Smelling the acrid remnants of death and Varansi, I can appreciate the moment of humanity captured in the threads and be grateful for its impermanence.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Close to the Source

The henna on my fingers is fading much faster than the curls and flowers on my palms. Henna painting is part of the Indian wedding tradition and I was invited to a huge Brahman wedding. The family is a prominent one, four generations of Ayurvedic doctors had been serving the capitol of that state. The festivities lasted more than the 3 days I was present and culminated, for me, with the bride and groom smartly dressed on a slowly revolving dais on the second tier of a stage built for the wedding. Flowers and glitter, music and 2000 people accompanied them as they placed a garland of flowers around each other's necks. This symbolized the marriage, although they were not allowed to look into each other's eyes until after midnight during another vow and prayer ceremony.

This tattoo marks me as privileged, but not nearly as much as does the color of my skin. The six of us Westerners were like trophies at this event. The press was called and our pictures were posted in the paper, we were interviewed and video taped for the local (I guess) news. Folks seemed most interested in what we think of the Indian culture. For me, it is a culture that keeps on giving.

Last night, I arrived at the prearranged meeting point for the boy to carry my luggage and guide me to the Leela Guesthouse where I had a room reserved. Darkness had just landed to street level as I followed him through the catacombed walkways, just like in the movies, this way and that. The electricity was out save for the periodic light bulbs fueled by private generator. I was led by him and moved by my trust. This is truly a strange new place. This is Varanasi.

The guesthouse looks out on the wide Ganga. Water buffalo and people submerge, monkeys climb in search of food, people talk, sing and laugh, disembodied sounds that remind me I am in a densely populated place.

Just yesterday morning, I walked across the suspension bridge leading from Rishikesh. It was 4 in the morning and the Ganga flowed below, pristine and cold, from close to her source in the mountains. Today, I unpacked in a tiny room located between the two prominent funeral ghats of the oldest city in the world. It is considered most auspicious to have the body burned and ashes sent to the Mother Ganga. Folks painstakingly penny pinch to gather the necessary fee for enough wood to consume the corpse. This Ganga is closer to a different source and is warmer.

When the spirit moves me, perhaps this afternoon, I will walk the short distance to one of these places of mournful celebration. Although I may stick out, with my hennaed hands and pale skin, I walk in the same direction we are all moving in this life, towards the funeral pyre, towards another end.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Tree Branch Dances an Edge Through The Light of The Moon

are we always on the edge?
edge of something?
death, ecstasy, economic boons
crippling typhoons?

am i looking for a place without the edge?
if the infinite has no boundary,
can it have a center?
centered on the edge

moves with me wherever i groove
dancing on one foot
swaying arms move
the tree's roots grow in all directions

at once

Monday, February 2, 2009


Every morning, the woman (or staff) of the house cleans the entrance to the driveway, gate or front door. Debris is swept with a broom of brittle weed stems tied together. They bend and place one hand one the small of the back as they swing the broom in a metronomic dance. Piles of trash, dirt and animal waste are pushed to the side. They pour water on the old image left with its footprints and tire tracks from the day before.

In the second image, you can see the careful measuring out done, points of a grid are placed to guide the design which is created by the artist spilling the rice powder from her hand. The designs have many symmetries and consist of either individual designs or closed curves that weave through one another. The design on the right was ornately colored as it celebrated the event called Pongal.

Rangoli is a tradition of these parts. Each morning, impermanence is celebrated with art and beauty as yesterday's design is scrubbed away and replaced with a different one. Once the picture is made, she steps away from it. Within the hour of the one completed above, a torrential rain fell on the city. The colors blurred, dappled themselves into a new configuration with a different disorderly beauty.

My life has become rangoli. I devise a plan, a geometric intermixing of learning and fun, of travel and study, of relaxation and action and calm. Then God giggles and the mandala is rearranged. If I were steady in my attachments to plans and intentions, I would be disappointed most of the time. And I would miss the blur of the colors rained into improvised images, morphed from the map, swirled and spiraled out of the matrix.

For example, I came to Chennai to work with a private teacher in chanting, Sanskrit, and Patanjali's yoga sutras. My sutra teacher's brother died, the Sanskrit teacher was mean (and not so competent, perhaps the motivation for the unkindness). I chant. I study on my own. And, freed from that structure, I discovered other opportunities, things I could not have planned, as I was unaware of the possibilities until life opened and put me in the right place and the right time.

Recently, I told a friend who was facing a betrayal of the love life variety that further out in the mandala of time, he may see the perfection of this splotch on his canvas. Seeing things close up takes them so far out of context and nurtures an attachment to the definition given at the time. The great tragedies of my life have offered the most intricate and structurally supportive components of the mandala so far. So too have the little miracles, frustrations, coincidences and mistakes.

The first design was done in front of a mansion. This one is before an impoverished and very small, dank place. In the center is a meticulously placed clump of cow dung. It holds the flower upright.

I suppose the moral of the story is, take what is offered to you in life, place it in the mandala of the day and know that it will get washed away, redesigned, and become its own part of perfection over time.