Monday, February 27, 2012

You Are Who You Are, Wherever You Are Next Stop Udupi, India Part 2

We were presented the option to visit Elephanta Caves (Elephant Island), ruins from the 7th Century. Pretty much everyone was on board with going and we set out after an early morning breakfast. Crossing the streets by foot in Mumbai is no different from playing a human game of Frogger. Remembering to look both ways is key because cars are coming from the opposite direction than we're used to and from every direction possible. There are no friendly reminders on the sidewalks like in London noting which way to look before crossing. Best be on high alert when out and about or you will find yourself splat out, game over.

If Cliff made notes on his notes, here's what he would have written on the Elephanta Caves,"Shortly before the Elephanta temples were created, Bombay had experienced the golden age of the late Guptas, under whom the arts flourished. Sanskrit had been finely polished, and Kalidasa and other writers had helped incite a Hindu religious revival under the court's liberal patronage. Shaivism, the worship of Shiva, inspired the building of these temples." This was lifted from the link above if you want to read more, you know where to go.

Cave Dancing
An hour long ferry ride drops you off on a jetty which one traverses to reach the main island. If I fail to mention the kirtan led by Gaura Vani Aks during the ferry shuttles, I would be cheating the whole experience of visiting the caves. Kirtan (devotional singing) opens your heart and your mind as well as connects you to the people who are singing with you. What better way to prepare for stepping foot on preserved ancient land which also looked like it could be a great location to shoot the next Indiana Jones movie. Sita Ram, Sita Raaaamm, Lakshman Hanuman, Lakshman Hanuman.

Every day is a day with possibilities wherever you are. On ancient land in India or in your home. How open you are to possibilities is up to you. Your projector or lens through which you experience life makes all the difference. You can be anywhere and have a great day or a crappy day. Something new and exciting can be perceived as new and exciting just as it can be seen as new and scary. Something familiar can be viewed as comfortable and calming or old hat and boring. This is your mind and how you see the world. Is the world coming at you or are you going into the world? Do you find yourself saying, "Well he did that to me, and that's why I am miserable" or "If none of these doctor's can fix it then who can"? How does one take "The world is coming at me" view to "I can make a difference in this world" point of view?

The only place to start is with yourself. Change can only happen if you take action. We've all heard about journeys and paths. This is the road to making lasting changes in your life. On this proverbial road you will find love, compassion, joy, discipline, truth, ethics and hard work. Choosing your path is part of the journey and part of the homework to self discovery and healing. You will still be you. You can't escape you, but how you see the world, how your mind works, will change. Possible new questions will be, "How can I help you?" or "What do you need?" instead of "I am hungry. I am hot. I am thirsty." Because you've already worked on self, you know you have all that you need, you come from a place of abundance rather than deprivation. You can let go of poverty mentality and be of service to others. This is the shift.

The intention of a pilgrimage (yatra) is to visit holy and sacred places associated with Hindu epics like The Mahabarata or Ramayana. I chose this yatra lead by Raghunath Cappo because I felt connected to him and his teachings. I wanted to experience India through his experiences, teachers and offerings. This is how teachings are passed on. As we were promised pre-voyage, on our first day, copies of The Mahabarata (about a 3 lb hard cover book) were purchased for 500 rupes ($9) and distributed. We were assigned readings throughout the yatra. Honestly it was hard to keep up with the readings with all the travel, connecting with the other yogis, getting some sleep, and in general having an awesome, stimulating time. Thankfully Raghu is a master story teller.

Finally after 10 years of wanting to see India, how I would experience the Motherland for the first time became clear. I had to plan nearly a year in advance to make it happen. Incredibly, within the week that I decided to go on the pilgrimage, my amazing client said she wanted to donate flyer miles to me for when I decide to go to India. I had never mentioned before wanting to go or India for that matter. She intuitively knew. When you are clear with your intentions, and your intentions are grounded in basic goodness, the seas start to part.

Radha-Kunda Das photo courtesy of Micheal Dehni

We had three nights and two days in Mumbai then off we were to the next destination Udupi in the state of Karnataka. There is something really nice about letting others take charge of the itinerary. I never knew what time the flights were, or the train, or when things were scheduled. What time I needed to be when and where were instructed by Radha-Kunda Das (the "a" at the end of Kunda is silent) the man in charge of all travel, reservations, meals, bookings, etc. Radha-Kunda just may be the most amazing man in robes I will ever meet. More to come on that.

A huge glowing red sunrise greeted us at the airport. 
Had I not been going through security check and keeping track of my ticket, passport and carryon, I would have taken a photo of the best sunrise of the trip and perhaps that I have seen thus far in my life. I took the opportunity to meditate for a half hour while waiting to depart. You are who you are wherever you are.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You Are Here. Mumbai, India Part 1

Radhe Radhe !!!                     photo credit: Michael Denhi
Sensation overload is to be expected upon arriving in an Indian airport. For some reason I thought I would step out of the plane and be assaulted by smells and sights foreign to my current catalog of sense memories. This did not happen. Perhaps because deplaning is pretty much the same everywhere, we prod along single file, some sort of hand bag or luggage over shoulder and sometimes pulling a wheeled bag, I found myself following the familiar sounds of other wheeley bags hypnotically guiding us through customs, then the luggage carousels and out through the no-return exit doors. So far, same as any other foreign country arrival. Hearing Raghu's voice call my name snapped me into reality. I am in Mumbai, Jai Ma! Raghunath Cappo, an incredible human being who happens to be a yoga teacher, organized this pilgrimage (yatra). About 30 of us signed up for this journey. Apparently my flight arrived early. A crew of about 20 had already gathered from other flights that had come in and they were waiting for a few more. It always seems like magic greeting someone at the airport as they walk through the guarded exit doors, forbidden to re-enter, there they are, a newly birthed person from the flight of a lifetime. Any flight, every time. It seemed Raghu had greeted me just as that, a miracle to have made it, as every life is a miracle, and here in the Motherland of India, I was blessed to have arrived. My luggage was in tact and with me. I was in tact and with me, too.

the first of many hairsplitting rides
After most of us arrived, we took cabs in groups of four to Hotel Shalimar. I don't remember the other passengers squished in next to me other than Raghu who sat in the front, bubbling with stories and enthusiasm. Most of the flights arrived between 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM. By the time I settled in at the hotel, paired with a roommate and made it horizontal it was 2:00 AM and we had a 5:30 AM call time for yoga if we wanted to attend. Let the 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night for two weeks begin!

 Raghu set us up in a nice hotel by anyone's standards let alone a New Yorker who is used to certain comforts of home like, let's say, toilet paper. We take having rolls of TP in the cabinet for granted and spend a fortune on it to boot. One double roll of Charmin pack of four would cost 225 Rupees. This is expensive and luxurious. Just so we can get on the same page with the Rupee vs. the US dollar, a 15 minute cab ride in Mumbai, a major city, is 50 to 70  Rupees which in NYC would be about 600 Rupee.  I need to reevaluate my toilet paper consumption. The Mumbai hotel was the only place we stayed where toilet paper was supplied upon arrival. I had been warned to bring TP and Kleenex packets so I was prepared for the less cushy hotel situation. Bidets seemed to replace TP in most bathrooms, public or private.

Raghu and Lauren
Our first full day, and boy was it a full day, after yoga and breakfast, we headed to Radhanath Swami's ashram which I still can't tell you the name of but I could show you how to walk there from the hotel. We were greeted warmly and joined the hundreds of people already seated, plucking flower petals for the ceremony that evening. We sat for satsang with Radhanath Swami and sang kirtan while we separated soft petals from the hard buds (they hurt when they are thrown at you which turns out to be part of the celebration - it's all fun and games 'til someone loses an eye or in Lauren's case develops an allergic reaction to all the flowers. She handled it quite well.) Flower plucking to lunch, and then Fabindia for some fab celebratory clothes. I'm not going to lie here, I was very excited to shop on the first day of this 2 week spiritual journey. Once again, Raghu is a smart man. He knows his audience. Sensory overload had finally arrived. Millions of flowers over head, under foot, and on the walls, incense everywhere, cars honking (I'll put money on it's India's national past time - it's written on the back of most trucks and cars "Blow Horn"). Good God, we fine you here for that kind on nonsense. I have totally new respect for Indian cab drivers in NYC. I now know where they're coming from - a game of chicken with everything else that's on the road; cows, carts, pigs, dogs, monkeys, elephants (yes, I saw 2 cruising along), people big and small, rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, cabs, cars, trucks, minivans ... did I forget anything?

Kaustuba - such a sport

We kind of went bananas at Fabindia. What's a kurta? 3/4 sleeve or full? And the Ali-baba pants vs. the salwar vs. churidars (weird looking leggings that go to your waist and can accommodate a full bladder and labonza.) And all the different scarf names and sizes! Dupattas, shawls, and stoles, oh my! Come to find out, Fabindia is holding out on chudders. A whole new drapey-wrap-wear I'll discover later on down the road. After testing the patience of our incredible guides and teachers, a Kaustuba and Gitapriya for over an hour with our fashion questions, we went back to the hotel, barely had time to shower, change and head back over to the ashram. All Fabindiasized, we were ready to celebrate.

I had never been showered by hundreds of flower petals let alone 2 tons of them until January 28, 2012. This particular celebration was started about 15 years ago by Radhanath Swami to celebrate Krishna. There are lots of Krishna celebrations. I don't know the exact name of this one, so I'm going with Flowers for Hours for Krishna. No doubt, in less than 24 hours after stepping foot in India, I was experiences new sights, sounds, scents and all the things that I dreamed would happen in the country recently marketed as "Incredible India". Totally get it! Incredible indeed and this was just the beginning.

after this posted, this link was sent to me. insane flower fight!