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.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Right Hand Rule and Middle-Aged Acts of Defiance.

Whatever you have heard about the right hand rule of India is probably true. As far as the private business with the left hand goes, I finally broke down and asked one of my trusted Chennai-born sources to explain how they manage without toilet paper. There is always a low spigot aimed at the tiled floor or into a bucket. There is one or two buckets, usually one has water in it and there is a small measuring 2 cup thing floating in one of them. I suppose each person develops their own water-splash-the-privates-with-the-left-hand technique. And I have never seen a sign that commands people to wash their hands with soap and hot water before returning to work. There would be no way to dry them, anyways. Some things I don't want to think too much about. And I didn't have the courage to inquire about what sorts of undergarments are beneath the elaborately wound saris. Perhaps the air drying applies to other things as well.

So, I comply. In public, eating, I use my hand. My right hand. Only. Sometimes I break cultural tradition and use a fork, but usually, I find clever contortions with my right hand fingers to tear pieces of the naan or chipoti for scooping up the vegetables and sauce. It's tricky, especially with the clawed up paw I have. But, I make it fun. My friend did let me know that if it tastes good, lick your fingers (folks don't use napkins...) And, it is perfectly fine to pick up your glassware with the left hand.

But tonight, I was cranky. After the third Sanskrit lesson with the Nazi Sanskrit teacher, who found her patience in the middle of a bed of nails and her handwriting in a can of silly string, I decided to buck tradition and have an omelet and buttered toast which I unceremoniously ate with BOTH hands, all 10 fingers, in plain view of anyone in that public place who wanted to notice and feel disgusted. If I wore t-shirts, I'd get one that says "I take my TP with me."

My acts of defiance certainly have changed over the years.... Tomorrow, I think I will fire my tutor. She definitely doesn't make learning fun. And for any student I ever remotely made feel frustrated in the same way, I extend whichever hand you want in apology. Om shantih shantih shantih....

PS I am waving the sign of peace everywhere I go and teaching the children I meet what it means. I think it means the same thing with either hand. -PEACE

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chants in the key of life (and death...)

Now that the Pranayama course is over (I'm still breathing...) I am spending time at home during the day. My desk is situated beside the small balcony's double doors, which are open to to the street and its sounds below.

This place is rich in vibration. Life is teeming from every direction. Voices rise and fall, motor bikes start with a loud clatter and drive away, leaving quiet in their exhaust. Jets seem to fall from the sky, aiming for the airport nearby. Sounds seem to mirror how temporary and changing everything is, even life, which comes like breath across the vocal cords, vibrates through melody and tones before ending into at least a moment of silence.

There are men whose job is chanting, sort of. They have a mantra particular to their wares which they pull, push, or ride down the middle of this cozy residential street. So far, there has been a tailor who pushes a sewing machine (!) and has a particularly nasal call, in Tamil, the most common language spoken here. There is the coconut man whose cart sits upon a three wheeled bike. His call is more irregular, but louder. There is a vegetable man and another "salesman" with a cart baring what looks like sorted garbage. Possibly, this is the Chennai version of recycling. One man chants clearly, some word I do not know, a long call on every breath. You can count time to it and the sound is clear, piercing almost, and sounds like a spiritual practice. These voices come and go.

When I am not here studying or chanting myself, I go to the Mandiram for private chanting lessons. I have a new teacher, named Kala. My other teacher was sadly called away, as her brother fell while embarking on a train. He bumped his head on the metal step and died immediately, like a song abruptly ended.

I think about her every day. And I think about one particular chant, called the mahamrtyunjaya. It was a chant I left on the CD player in my sister's room while she lay in a coma for three weeks. It is about immortality. And how when the moment is perfect for wisdom, for leaving the body, for returning to the body, for is like the cucumber, perfectly ripe, that falls naturally off the vine without effort. Death can be like that. So can life. Just like a tune that spills off the tongue into song, or a call to a loved one, a curbside jingle or a final good-bye.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I have been holding my breath
even while breathing
even while chanting

holding the breath inside anticipation
waiting for the swearing-in
for the new royalty to start

working for my America
for great saving of face
for peace from the inside out

the whole world was watching
holding its breath
and giving a collective sigh

I watched the promenade of the United States' great thinkers, movers and shakers on a small computer screen buffering digital history across the globe. A few things struck me... like the moments when figure heads for opposing teams, sort of, met in the hall before being announced to the people. When the Clintons shook hands with the senior Bush's, they were greeting one of the few other couples on the face of the planet that have shared the experience of running for office and living through the trials and tribulations of presidency. Despite conflicting political agenda, they must have insights into each other's lives that few of us can imagine.

Aging and physical degeneration do not seem to acknowledge the elite credential, President Bush (Sr.) stepped carefully, using his cane. I wondered how he felt.

And most of these people, the heads of state, former president, Obama's family, George W. and our new President, had a long walk through hallways and down sets of marble stairs, mostly in silence. This was a rite of passage. This was a changing of the guard. I wondered what thoughts were in their minds. Was each one of us taking our own quiet walk into a changing destiny? Were they thinking of themselves, the country, the world? Maybe they were thinking of a song, or breakfast or a joke they wanted to tell.

This country of ours... Aretha Franklin sang in a voice we all recognized. Yo Yo Ma rocked out on the cello in the freezing air, poetry inspired us just after President Obama's speech sobered us and left us with hope in the face of challenging times.

I have faith today. All is as it should be, unfolding us into times that may require us to dig deeply into the well of self-reflection. Change is guaranteed, how we negotiate it is overseen by our creative license to see new perspectives, fluff up old hardened notions with insight and daring. I am proud to be an American...

I had no idea this patriotism would spill into the Blog, but here it is...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sunday Field Trip

Can you say Mahabalipuram? Try it 5 times fast... grin!
A fellow student, Meissa, a Slovenian yogi living in Amsterdam, took me and Xenia for a Sunday exploration. We went to... Mahabalipuram, a small town on the coast known for its stone cutter artisans. Here are some of the sights we enjoyed:This is an India totem! It is rising from a temple carved from the granite of a hillside.
We stopped at the crocodile place on the way and met sharp toothed scaly guys from all over the world. The crocs were interesting, too. There were families enjoying the zoo and the kids all wanted to look at us and practice their English with us.

This is us. Meissa let the little girl nag her into buying four plastic beaded necklaces for 100 rupies. I think they look pretty good on us, don't you? That's Xenia on the right, she was my first room mate. The blue sky behind us was lit over...

The beach! We went to the Ideal Resort and sat under palm trees on the Bay of Bengal. These two herds were being shepherded home. The herders followed behind carrying baby goats in their arms. Too cute. And yes, cows hang out wherever they want around here. The whole country is free range.

I realize this is out of focus, but I was zooming in to frame the dancer with the stone panel backdrop. The stage was set up in town in front of this temple. All kinds of people came out for the performance. She danced with her eyes and her head going side to side. She wore these red finger extensions to accentuate the mudras when she danced. And she smiled the entire time.

Tomorrow is Pangal, the Tamil New Year... I am wondering what I will see, hear and smell in this land that stimulates the senses.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chant Til Ya Shop

The sand man sprinkled twelve hours of dream dust through the mosquito net last Tuesday. Good timing, as I was deliriously sleep deprived - mind was spinning the gerbil wheel a million syllables a minute to keep up with life on the planet. Restored by five o’clock the next morning, I slipped into my yellow flip flops and had a cup of java with my first chant of the day, a chant to Narayana, the name given to the creator of the universe, according to the Vedas.

I am glad I don’t have to subscribe to a pantheon of beliefs to reap the calming and inspiring benefits of chanting! These days, I have a direct relationship with Essence, and that is enough for me. Lately, I can patiently listen to great pundits and amateurs expound on clever or profound explanations wanting neither to jump in with my own story nor strangle them for inflicting me with some logical (or not) improvable philosophy or scientific explanation.

I appreciate the practical these days. If something helps me be more forgiving or kind, more accepting of my humanity and less apt to cling to illusion, then I’ll look into it. I appreciate that the Buddha was repeatedly asked what he referred to as the 10 unanswerable questions. Like, “Where do you go when you die?” His take on the whole thing was that thinking about it contributes to suffering and since it can’t be answered, the practical approach is to stop asking. Glory Allelujah and Right On!

So, I started the day with Artharvasiropanisat. And after morning classes, I had my first chanting lesson. Akhila, my teacher, informed me that it was one of the most auspicious days in the year and those who chant to Narayana are assured the wide open doors to heaven. I don’t really know what heaven is, but since I don’t want to suffer over it, I don’t ask and figure it must be a good thing.

One good thing was the rickshaw ride I took with my housemate, Xenia. It started raining that afternoon and she coached me on haling and negotiating the little yellow vehicle. These “cars” start with a hand lever beside the driver’s seat, similar to the pull chain on a lawn mower. We covered our mouths from the fumes and got a lesson in horn honking. Slow down? Honk. Stop? Honk, honk. Someone coming? Honk. No one around? Honk. Someone honks? Honk. He serenaded us all the way to Mylapore, a part of Chennai. There were no traffic closecalls that tempted me to pray to God and we stayed dry enough to enjoy our destination, the teaspoon-sized bookstore.

This shop is down a small road across from the Madras Sanskrit College on the second floor of what appears to be a residential building. It is three closet sized rooms loaded with more books about more Gods that even God could shake all her fists at. Turning around in this place was a hazard resulting in a toppling tower of hardbacks. I only did it once before I found a stool to perch and search on. There was no room to share with other browsers. How could I have doubted the existence of heaven just hours before when it was one rainy rickshaw ride away? And they kept the doors open past closing for me!

Laden with full bags, we dodged beggars and raindrops back to the main drag, a busy avenue lined with appliance shops, trinket stores and household bazaars. Xenia let me handle the rickshaw for the ride home. Walking home from the rickshaw stand, we passed the coconut lady. She sits on the main road behind a mound (get it?) of coconuts and slices off the coconut top with her machete, puts a bendable straw in the open end for her customers. The milk inside is loaded with minerals and good things for the blood. I was drinking the nectar of the gods…

Rain tucked me in that night. I fitfully dashed through a dozen dreams. When I awoke, I was not inclined to chant to Narayana. Looking at the lake sized puddles in the road outside the gate, I was grateful this is not rainy season. I suited up in my LL Bean raincoat and water proof Tote boots for the morning haul. We were told that rain this time of year is unusual and considered a blessing.

The day before, the whole city was chanting, ringing bells and wearing flowers in honor of the special day. Intuition or something led me to chant the password to heaven. And the rains came from out of the blue. While I do not have an explanation and realize coincidence or serendipity, cold fronts and pressure gradients, prayers or pujas might have delicately balanced themselves in the clouds to become drops of rain, I do feel a renewed appreciation for something that I do believe in. Something I witness often and can rarely explain. Something that is the ingredient common to all religious, scientific and poetic explanations for how it all came to be. And that… is mystery.

Monday, January 5, 2009

My Polyester Taj Mahal

My personal Taj Mahal is the mosquito net hung above the bed. It sweeps around me in ivory folds which I carefully part to slip out of bed directly into my yellow flip flops. (I am taking the commitment to not go barefoot here somewhat seriously.) Last night each of the students of the Pranayama course were given a lei of flowers. The teacher draped mine across my shoulders and the lovely perfume inspired the first deep breath of the course. I have placed the flower strand on the apex of the net; my dreams last night were scented with its fragrance.

Does it make sense to love a place like this? Noises bombard the streets from low flying jumbo jet blasts and high pitched motor-ped squeals. In a fit of independence, I crossed the busy 3 Cross Road by myself for the first time tonight. This involved looking both ways about two dozen times, remembering they drive on not the wrong side of the road, exactly, but on all sides of the road, and saying a little chant to Ganesh before slipping across. I am either developing paranoia or safe water habits each time I wash anything, be it dish, hand or shirt. I have covered my nose from the fetid air on the walk to the yoga mandiram, successfully avoided insect bites, and seen a golden aura around my chanting teacher, Radha, who welcomed me with bright eyes and a hug. I have acquired the skill of looking anywhere but into the faces of the people, mostly men, as I stroll the few blocks to the school, but the smiles from a lovely teenage girl in pigtails today was worth a thousand lascivious stares. And, yet, I think I love this place. It feels old to me, like I've been gone from it a while, but it has been waiting, like the Taj Mahal for the beloved, like the net for the mosquito, like the orchid for honey bee.

Our classes are held in a room constructed on the roof of the building that houses the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram(KYM). The walls are partially concrete and mostly woven thatch that braids itself over us above the fans set to a constant whirl. The floor is covered with brightly striped carpets and the 17 of us sit on yoga mats and pillows in long rows facing the teachers.

As the first class began promptly at 7:30am, I felt a capital "YES" pervade my being when we took our first breaths together. Breathing together, inhaling and exhaling in time with others, is sacred to me. We honor both the fundamental and the vast potential of Who we are; we keep it simple while brushing against the profound. My body welcomed the asana practice, given in simple moves coordinated with the breath. Mind started to watch and to notice the fits and starts, the pauses and is-ness of itself.

We are to enjoy the most senior teachers from the KYM, as this is the first time the Pranayama Intensive is being offered. Mr. Desikachar presented our first philosophy class, threading Patanjali’s yoga sutras into an introduction to the practices we will experience. At the end of our time with him, he led us in a breath practice while chanting the first two yoga sutras. His voice was just like the breath, a fundamental brush with eternity.

I've made arrangements for private chanting and philosophy studies. I'll be engaged in my studies Monday through Saturday. Other goals this week include learning how to take a rickshaw and taking my clean laundry to the folks on the corner who do ironing. The colorful outfits I purchased upon arrival are comfortable and light cotton that keeps me cool in the heat and covered as per cultural dictate.

Tonight, I hope to sleep past 2am, the infamous hour that haunts the jet lagged. I have taken off the second watch and feel cozy under the protection of my net, where I stretch out naked with no shoes on, feeling quite the queen as I inhale the fragrant crown from atop my polyester Taj Mahal.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Time-Change; Change-Time

In all the years I taught, I never wore a watch. There were bells to end classes or punchlines in the material, there were timers to measure the meditations, there was my enthusiasm to get me there at the beginning. Time has been a handy structure for things like lesson plans, planting the garden and coordinating schedules, but wearing a watch seemed too much a statement of accepting an external structure as a mandate to my interior. I have watched a distinct resistance to that! So, in keeping with a philosophical guidepost of mine, I am exploring the resistance. Liberation for me often resides in the unpacking of my own resistance to things.

I have two watches on my right wrist this morning. The Swatch was a gift from my friend in Zurich. It is set to Chennai time. I grabbed the other watch from the pile of over a dozen watches my Mom left behind. (Each one of them required a new battery, time had run out….) It is set to Raleigh-time. There is a 10 and a half hour time change. I never heard of a half hour time difference until planning for the trip to India. While these watches ticked off seconds a half a day apart, the coffee maker ticked off another cup. I like that measure of time, although there was a distinct learning curve on using the travel “Quick CafĂ© II.” The first cup became a golden puddle on the table. The second cup was a bit weak. This one? Mmmmm, just right. All it took was time, time and patience.

There is another clock that marks the moments in my heart. It makes a particular sound, “Just now is enough, just now is enough, just now is enough…” but occasionally, it resounds with a burst of bells that heralds the end or the beginning of a thing. It witnesses the passages between worlds; it sings an anthem or cries a wake. And yesterday, hugging my sister good-bye on the airport curbside, I felt the race of my heart against hers and my tears gather and fall. The internal clock began its song. A big chapter ended, time rolled behind that moment and began wrapping itself into the arms of its story. A big chapter begun, time finally found the ribbon where it had patiently marked the page and turned its face to begin the new read. I felt deep gratitude for her. I felt sharp relief that this chapter of my Mother’s dying was over. I felt joy to be embarking once again on the path into the small wide world. Time was marked and clanging inside me.

I did not once look down at the watches on my wrist. I knew that everything was happening right on time.