HO HO HO

Tis the season’ but the season for what?  This time of year it seems as if anything goes, the season of parties, of indulging, of family friends, of cold weather, shopping madness, stressed out travelers and plenty of expectation.  Tis the Season alright.  In these modern times the season of giving tends to be misunderstood.  We shop til we drop because we are told to and the ones near and dear to us expect something in return for the presents they bought us.  The spirit of giving gets lost in this matrix of commercial cheer.  The gift doesn’t feel good enough unless a lot of money was spent.  I spent a lot of cash on this, so I must care about you…  The whole spirit of giving gets misconstrued into a quantity, a dollar amount.  In this mayhem we can lose sight of the intention behind our giving, the spirit in which we give with no expectations for reciprocation.  Corporate America has sold us a bag of goods and we keep on buying, year after year, we keep on spending, got to keep the economy going after all.

Are you happy giving and is it for giving sake, or some other reason?  Our best intentions and the holiday spirit of joy and merriment can be lost in greed of what we got in return for our efforts.

So how do we rectify this?  Decide that giving doesn’t have to be in dollars.  Tell corporate America that you’re not buying what they’re  selling and instead give something you make, or if that is too much for you, give the gift of time.  Give your attention and give with your whole heart because this is what  makes another person feel special; to feel loved.  Make sure the people around you know how much they mean to you so they can walk away feeling the joy and the spirit of the season.

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Yoga Travels NYC

So much time has passed since my last post I don’t know where to begin…  My ‘yoga travels’ are officially over in the traditional sense.  I’ve returned to New York City, gotten married, and settled down.  Wow, a lot has happened in five months!  No longer a vagabond on the road my life has gotten a more consistent, more predictable.  But that is not to say the travels have ended.  Every day is a new journey with lessons to be learned, people to meet, places to go, things to do.  My life has become the road and the destination has become the journey.  Keeping this mindset has allowed me to stay exited in some of the new found routines of day-to-day living.  I don’t know exactly where I’m going or how I’m getting there, which keep me on my toes, keeps me guessing, keeps me interested.  That’s not to say I don’t have a path or some sort of destination in mind, but it is no 6-lane freeway heading North to South, that’s for sure.  As my Grandfather would say, ‘God writes straight with crooked lines.’

Since my last postings I trekked the Himalayas, lived on a house boat in Lake Dal in Kashmir, did over 17 days of silent meditation, saw the Dali Lama, moved back to New York City, started teaching yoga at various studios and got hitched.  A lot has transpired in these past few months and much has changed.  The externalities are definitely different and there has also been an internal shift, but as the old axiom goes, ‘where ever you go, there you are.’  Regardless of all this, I find I’m still the same person as I was when I left.  I have grown and changed, but core of who I was remains.

So here I am, once again living in NYC, once again practicing and teaching a lot of yoga.  It’s a full circle from two years ago when I had just moved back to the city from Los Angeles.  The question begs the answer, and experience waits to teach.  Of all my experiences over the past year, of all the places visited and adventures had, the most profound were the ones I sat with and got a chance to internalize.  ‘An unexamined life in not worth living,’ or so says Socrates.  I’m not sure if it’s not worth living but it definitely makes it more meaningful, more profound.  My scattered journeys from one country to another have come to an end (for now), and yet the travels continue.  I continue to travel my mind, dive into this brave new world that seems oddly familiar, and I will continue to post my thoughts and happenings. Yoga Travels in New York City.

Namaste

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Trekking II

“Raining,” says Doorjay, the slightly hunched over man of the house. “Yeah, raining,” I stoically reply. We sit in the living/kitchen/bedroom, surrounded by gorgeous pots, kettles, and various other cooking paraphernalia stacked along the wall, sharing a limited conversation of basic English words. I watch the rain slowly come down outside my window-pane in steady whispers. There’s a rectangular hole in the ceiling about a foot by three feet and the falling water happily enters our shared space. Doorjay, ruefully watches it fall and after a few moments of gazing towards the sky, decides he should move the pad that’s steadily getting wet. We sit silently watching it rain inside. It sounds much louder in the closed space. His wife, Kurchin, sits and spins the freshly cut, soft, local wool into thread using a long wooden tool on a circular base, as their daughter steadily knits; hats, stuffed animals, warm sox. The concentration of mother and daughter is infective. Doorjay flicks on his small, black, portable radio to listen to the news from afar. A woman yells in from the street. I sip my chai masala tea. Local cow milk: the taste is rich and fresh. Dinner is served and I slowly indulge, taking my time with the spicy noodles. Enjoy, there ain’t much else to do. The soft drizzle lets up and I head outside for some fresh air and a post dinner smoke. The daughter, Rigzen, comes out and lights a small fire of cow dung – a nightly offering to the gods. A smokey prayer. The lone dog barks. Who is this self? Who is this I? I contemplate the distance we travel to get where we are. Always here and far away. My lover traverses the seven seas from a world away. She calls. Saturday slowly shuts the sky and opens anew on New York. Bon Iver’s new record plays on Fraser’s ipad, strangely out-of-place and at once at home. 8:30 seems unseemly late and yet somehow too early. Where’s the full moon party? I care not. Feelings elude words, no need to speak. I breath. I listen. I settle in.

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Trekking

Two galaxies collide as East meets West.  An iPad 4,000 meters high.  Mother and daughter of the house stare enraptured at the slide show of Southern India playing on the sleek screen.  They are introduced to their country; to their vertically challenged brothers and sisters at the tip of India in Kerala.  Lehdok meet Kerala.  Mud and stone houses form the semblance of a Tibetan Buddhist village nestled by streams of freshly melted snow.  A field of living green and dusty gold surrounded by the music of a steady, soft OM.  Defiant Himalayan peeks capped in a blaze of blistering white.  High altitude desert and an oasis of communal life.  A donkey’s destitute pierces the twilight.  The sound twists my heart and scratches my ears.  A lone dog barks to no reply.   Cows check in before their bed.  Puccini is played to ancient ears, a first I’m sure.  A home cooked meal, complimentary with the home-stay.  The family invites us into their lives.   Four-hundred rupees, ten dollars, three meals and a place to rest my head.  They’ve lived here always; the daughter with sparkling eyes keeping the wizened parents company.

Papa counts mandala beads in his right hand, silently chanting sacred mantras.  I can settle here.  A day, a week, a month and even more.  Life lived slow.  Close to the cosmos, scraping heaven’s ceiling.  Smiling faces worn with time, hard outdoor labor, radiant UV light, intense sunshine.  A six-hour trek took us here, Frasier my new-found friend from Scotland and I. 

-You have any idea where the local bus stop is?

– This way.  I’m heading there now.

–  You doing a trek?

– Yeah, the Stok one.

– Nice, me too…

The 30 minute bus ride drops us off in a confusion of dust.  We ask a couple of giggling village girls directions and begin to find our way.  Frasier and I take to foot on unpaved roads.  Locals are strewn about our path, collecting rock through the mid-day sun in order to put down new road for heavy machinery.  The Indian Army demands a speedy access to its territory.  China and Pakistan hungry with religion and thirsty for land keeps the armed force busy worrying.  The wide road leads to a confusing foot-trail, traversed with running water.  Deep breaths and thin air; a river runs through it.  Defiant rocks protrude from a vertical wall of clinging earth.  Cross the ancient stream, back, forth, back, forth and back again.

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I’ll Dream of You

Take a ride on Eagle wings

devour the distant sky

rake in the shadows of all that passes by.

Goddess Ganges winds her way  

through unpaved mountain roads.

The millions flock to kiss her feet

and wash it all away.

I breathe the beauty of your hips

the ridge-line of your tits

roof-top yoga, spicy food

a lot to learn, all that you choose.

It’s getting close to closing time

unpack and leave it all behind.

I’ll dream of you

I always do.

I always do.

I’ll dream of you come light.

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Funneral Pyer

After wandering through tight alley ways and getting lost in the maze that is Varanasi, Julia my new friend from Germany and I make our way to the Holy Ganges River.  The snake is long and inevitably leads the way back towards our starting point in a somewhat coherent manner.  We slowly meander with the flowing water south, moving from one Ghat to another until we stumble into a huge open market of fire wood.  More firewood than I’ve ever seen stacked together in one place, all the wood awaiting their inevitable transformation into heat, smoke and ash.  A self-proclaimed Brahman accosts us and before we know it, bang, we’re standing almost on top of the funeral pyre.  How many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of bodies received their last rites here before passion on – out of the karmic cycle of birth and death and into Nirvana?  Hindus believe that if you are cremated here your soul is cleansed and you’re released from reincarnation, allowing the spirit to rest in eternal nirvana. 

Fires burn casually everywhere.  I stare dumbfounded at someone’s feet as they stick out of the flames where the rest of the body lays, rapidly becoming no more.  The feet get bigger and darker, swollen with heat and pressure as if ready to explore.  Further up the leg all flesh has melted away, leaving only a white bone protruding from the flames.  No longer connected with muscles and tendons the legs fall to the side until one of the fire guards, from the Untouchable caste, comes over with a bamboo stick and casually tosses the feet back into the smoldering flames.  Something pops and there is a geyser of liquid that shoots up from where the sternum should be.  The head pokes out from the other side and is guided back into the flames.  A distinct smell fills the air.  I can’t quite place it.  It is at once sickening and intriguing, the scent of burning human flesh.  A new one for me, unlike any BBQ I’ve been to, not quite as appetizing.  In fact I should probably sit…

 There are at least 6 fires going at the same time.  Some are embers, some ash, others just beginning to crackle to life, an all-consuming life.  A steady stream of bodies are carried on bamboo ladder-like stretchers.  They are first immersed into the Holy Ganges and then laid on top of a well-built pile of wood.  These people obviously know how to build a good fire.  Son, father, husband, brother, whoever is closest in the family hierarchy perform the last rites – a ceremony of walking around the body 5 times with lit sticks, each time blessing the forehead, and then finally igniting the kindling underneath the fire.  The initial flame is always brought from the eternal-fire (kind of like the Olympic flame that never goes out) from the Shiva temple just above.  No women are allowed by the burning bodies for fear they might throw themselves on the flames in their uncontrollable grief (this has obviously happened on numerous occasions).  No tears are allowed.   As you watch your family member become ash before your very eyes, you must remain calm and celebrate the life stoically, almost with a nonchalant attitude.  At least 6 fires going at a time all day, all night, all year, nonstop.  Burn baby burn.  Cows and water buffalo graze the river banks, peacefully stand around looking board and occasionally fight for territory.  Dogs look for scraps of meat to eat.  A body is taken on a boat to the middle of the river and dumped in.  Our Brahman guide tells us that there are 6 types of people who can’t get cremated here; a pregnant women, lepers, widowed wives with no children, sadhus, children, snake bite victims (specifically vipers).  So the body must have been in one of those 6 categories.  I wonder about the corpse sinking to the bottom of the Ganges and where they fit on the list.  The boat nonchalantly makes its way back to shore.  The holy river consumes all and keeps flowing.  Children play in the murky water.  Adults bath and wash their sins away; life and death on full public display.  Nothing is sacred and everything is holy.  No space to be modest or private or reserved.  The unity of it all, the One that bonds us together in life and death.  The person who was talking, breathing, eating, laughing… only a few short days ago, gets piled on the dry logs   as they slowly catch fire and within 3 hour are no more – just ash remains for the Ganges to wash away, heat and smoke.  Nothing left.  How surreal it all seems.  White ash keeps falling from the sky.  People in a hurry unperturbed by the sights and smells pass me by.  Life and death mingle, life goes on, or doesn’t.

Our Brahman ‘guide’ spots other westerners.  He blesses us, so I bless him back, and then demands money for ‘the wood’.  Hardly surprised by this, I pull out some money but he demands more.  I give in and he rushes off to his next score.  I feel that I should go but can’t pull myself away.  I sit and watch the bodies burn for hours.

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A Fool’s Tomorrow

A fool’s tomorrow

Lies in the belly of yesterday.

The jester laughs

At you and me

Mischief in his eyes

And death defying glee.

A pain so tender

It can’t be touched

A heart so humble

It won’t let love.

Thy mystery surrounds me

I’m falling to my knees.

Praise lord on high

And god below.

Let’s swelter, hiss

Then rain and snow.

Come not for want

Or reasons why.

I’m hungry

I’m horny

I need to cry.

The alphabet astounds me

And numbers do me in.

Gravity won’t let me go.

I’ll sink until I swim.

Gravity won’t let me go.

I’ll lose until I win.

I’ll lose until I win.

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