Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Transitioning to Home

We’re home. We landed in Toronto mid afternoon last Wednesday. Home is the place where I find safety and comfort. It is a place where I come to rest. It is e where I find beauty, and love finds me. Home is where I just get to be.

I am reminded about how many times over the last couple of months I have felt at home. There has been a familiarity about my surroundings that has been comfortable. I have felt in sync with the people and comfortable communicating and interacting, despite the language barriers. I have deepened my understanding of my own spirituality and how it fits in this world. And I have broadened my capacity to make sense of cultural differences and distinctive practises. I feel solid in my primary relationship with myself and also with my life partner. And I feel strong in my own personal direction.

When we arrived from the airport on Wednesday our children who live in Toronto crowded us with their energy and love. Friends and other family members sent words of welcome and sentiments of joy that we had returned. Our spiritual community was eager to reintegrate our presence back into the group. My working relationships showered me with messages of happiness about my return. We feel loved, and welcomed and full here.

Last night my dad visited me in a dream. He wanted to be with us and we were making the appropriate arrangements to bring him here so he could stay with us. “It will be so good for him.” I said. “He’ll be with people who love him and those that make him feel wanted and welcome.” In the dream it was simple to organize the caretakers who would be there to help him, the family members who could provide loving and caring company, and medical support in case the need was there. We wanted him there with us, because he wanted it too. And we made sure to make it happen.

I have come to learn that real home comes with me wherever I roam. That is what I want to remember. India may be miles away geographically, but what it has given to me cannot be left behind. When I think about that I realize that home is within me always.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Initiation To Delhi

Delhi is a mindblower! Up until now we’ve had a smattering of the sounds, the smells, the congestion of people, the bustle of shops and merchants in the different places of India where we’ve been. Landing in Delhi after another gruelling overnight bus ride has, so far, been overwhelming.

This time we ‘splurged’ by taking a ‘Deluxe’. Bus. The only difference, we’ve discovered, between a local bus and a ‘deluxe’ bus is that deluxe buses charge more. Our seats were just as uncomfortable. We still had to hold on to own backpacks. It was overly crowded, and, to top it all, our ‘deluxe’ bus broke down at about 4:00 am leaving us stranded out in the middle of the ‘highway’. Other buses stopped as they passed us, picking up some passengers at a time, depending on the number of seats available. By the time we arrived from Kullu (17 hours later) we were completely drained.

We are staying in a rugged area of Delhi called Paharganj. It is close to the Delhi Metro station, which makes everything so much more accessible. The room is clean. The people who run it are nice and it comes highly recommended by The Lonely Planet. It has a hot shower and pigeons hang out right outside our 4th floor window.

It is hard to be objective in Delhi. There are so many sights that startle me…noises that overwhelm me and smells that intrude and nauseate me. People function from a place of pure survival. They seem to be struggling for food, for drink, for entertainment and for personal space.

There are people everywhere! The main roads are lined with men women and children sitting along the curbs in groups that look like families. Their homes (tarpaulin sheets and makeshift tents) are not far away from the curbs where they sit bent under shawls and holding tightly on to each other.

All roads are crowded. There are bicycles, cars, rickshaws, motorcycles, cows, people, dogs, carts all going somewhere. There is no orderliness. Horns blow constantly. The varieties of horn sounds make it seem like it should be harmonic, but the fact is, it is off key, overbearing and loud.

There is harshness here; a brazen behaviour that cuts to the quick. Residents are brash, letting you know exactly what they want or, at least, think they want. “Don’t forget to give me a good tip.” A taxi cab driver reminds me as he’s driving. “Money. Money. Money.” Says a 12-year-old boy as he tugs on my arm. He is neatly dressed in school uniform. It is obvious he does this often.

A girl child scurries up to our car window as we stop for a red light. Her hands clasp to the slightly opened window as she hangs lightly on the edge. She gestures, fingertips meeting at her lips “Hungry…I’m hungry. I want food. Give me money for food.” She is skilled at looking painful, destitute, with sad looking eyes that stare at me relentlessly.

Another young girl, wearing a simple blue dress that is dirty and torn sits perched on a wall outside of The Indira Ghandi Memorial Museum. She is crying. There is no one else around that seems to know her. My first, conditioned response is to go up to her, “Where are your parents?” I want to say in helping mode. Then I stop. This is Delhi. This child is probably acting. It is hoax to get money.

But what if it’s not? What if she really needs help? Her acting skill is superior, never making eye contact with me, never backing from her intention. I am convinced her mother is not far away watching her carefully, making sure she is doing it right.

I have seen men stooping by the side of the road defecating. The smell of urine is in the air.

There is no expectation of privacy…. no understanding of individual needs, and no possibility of finding solitude. People live to survive and will do anything to make that happen.

The evil here is money, not people. There seems to be confusion about values in the world. When Indians see westerners, it seems to me, many of them respond with their eyes lighting up with dollar signs. Many in Delhi, don’t see me. And, they have so much that we don’t have. I wish there were something we could do to remind each other about that.

There is a man with a rugged looking face positioned on a bicycle rickshaw. One of his legs extends in readiness to pedal. He yawns fully revealing a large space in between his two remaining teeth. He is smiling slightly as he talks with another man. They are talking quietly, gently and one at a time as the other one listens. There is calm and intensity in their interaction. There is a respect between them and wisdom about how things can work in this world.

By the time the moon has risen in Delhi the crowds disperse. The merchants pack up their goods, and the cows along the road find a place to sleep. The city quiets down without becoming silent. There is never silence here. There is always something going on.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I can’t believe where I am! I find myself totally breath taken in the middle of the Himalayan Mountains. I have just finished an amazing meal and the sharp taste of garlic remains in my palette. The air is thin and crisp. I can smell the coolness of the snowy mountains.
Paul and I are beginning to plan our return trip to Canada. Before our last over night bus ride tomorrow to Delhi, culminating with our flight home, we decided to spend a last quiet day and night in the mountains.
The guesthouse is called Alliance and a French Indian who values the responsibility of being a host owns it. The food is superior. The view is absolutely spectacular. It’s completely family run, which in India, could mean the entire village is involved. 400 rupees a night (that’s about $10.00)
There is majesty in front of me. Mountain peaks, all snow sprinkled settle around the warm soothing sun directly above. Along the narrow dirt roads, Tibetan flags flap outside of the modest wooden homes, typically protected by shingled roofs of pure solid slate. Nagar is a tiny village about 1700 metres above sea level.

We spent the main part of our afternoon sitting on the ground, being silent, talking quietly together sometimes, and appreciating the vastness of absolute beauty surrounding us. It is perfect when I get to settle in to a place of nature long enough to become familiar with what I see. When I begin to recognize trees and mountain areas, I know I’m home. It’s a little like our land on Gabriola. I know the silhouette that the treetops create against the sky. I know the land.

Today, as I close my eyes I am almost convinced that I can bring this quiet home with me. I am reminded that the real quiet comes from within. It’s easier to practise in a place like India where the very nature of the surroundings and the people generate peacefulness and calm. But, for the first time I feel a sense of possibility. I want to hold on to this feeling. We are definitively on our way home.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Guru Swami Shyam

The village where Paul and I have been staying is called Ghandi Nagar. The main feature of this Himalayan village is the comfortable mix of Indian and western population. The friendly and cooperative living situation is facilitated by the presence of Guru Swami Shyam and his followers. For the past 40 years he and his devotees have inhabited a large section of the village. All residents appreciate the ashram community and all co- exist with support and respect for each other.

Swami Shyam is a Guru in the true sense of the word. He is an Indian Native from Kanpur who realized his gift about 40 years ago. At that time, he travelled around the world sharing his intellect and spirit, attracting followers who became enthralled with his informal and regular teachings. His visit to Canada in 1970 resulted in a large population of Canadian born youth following him wherever he went. Through his guidance they sought deeper insight in to self as well as a meaningful spiritual connection. They followed him to India where the IMI Ashram (International Meditation Institute) was founded.

I have heard about Swamiji for many years. Several of my friends have been devotees of his and either lived in Kullu or regularly visit here. I have read some of his teachings, heard his music, and seen many pictures. Still, I did not know what to expect. My concept of Guru is probably way different from that of most people. I tend to love people regardless of how famous they might be. I love though; I don’t revere. Famous people are no more deserving of love and respect than strangers I meet. It is not the least bit interesting for me to meet someone famous just to shake his/her hand. If, on the other hand, I get to meet someone, spend time and conversation with opportunity share each other’s thoughts and ideas…. that’s something else!

Our time with Swami Shyam has been amazing! At our first official meeting he welcomed us publically and repeatedly in front of his audience. We left that first satsang feeling inspired and completely included by Swami and by his community of devotees. After that first satsang, he invited us to tea where he shared more teachings with just 10 selected people. Paul and I became the reason for a gathering and were showered with attention from the Guru and his devotees. We joked with each other some, and then, as the tea was finishing, we hugged and laughed together. The others at the tea were flabbergasted! Apparently, Swami Shyam does not hug! I really felt a very personal connection with him. Even though when he speaks it is from an intellectual, not personal perspective, I felt a personal sense of understanding between us.

We went to satsang every day. Sometimes there were some really motivating words that Swami spoke. He would speak, sometimes for hours, and his followers sat silently, listening to every word with anticipation and overwhelming expectation and love. I learned a great deal from listening to Swamiji. And sometimes he spoke way beyond my realm of understanding. It amazed me to see his followers listening, many with mouths dropping, nodding heads in agreement, with their eyes sparkling in absolute awe. And I didn’t even get it!

This morning was supposed to be our last morning in Kullu. Beth walked quietly in to our room before 7:30 to let us know that Swamiji called to invite us out for breakfast. “Get in a car”, he said, “and meet me at The Span Resort.”

Within 20 minutes we were out the door in a hired car driving towards Manali. We arrived at the resort where Swamiji and 4 other people were waiting. We had breakfast and Swami was still in his ‘satsang’ mode, but it was intimate and personal and gave us an opportunity to know each other more. he spoke to us about attachments and meditation and oneness.

Paul and I had bought Swami a bell as a gift of gratitude. The bell is a reminder of the unstruck sounds; those ideas and realizations that we strive for in our lives. The inner voices that we each have, the discovery of self through the loud sounds of silence through meditation. And as part of my presentation of the gift I showed Swami that I also bought a bell for myself that I intend to use in my teaching. And that every time I hear it I will think about him. “I hope you will also remember us”, I said to him. No doubt he will…even at 86 he is sharp, perceptive, very smart and intuitive. And there is no doubt, he has grown to love us both!

After breakfast the rains began in earnest. We drove back to Kullu feeling a bit euphoric. I was thinking about not going to our final satsang. Paul convinced me to go. I did so reluctantly. It was cold and rainy. I was tired and cranky and I I realized we might not be going into the mountains. But I went anyway.

It was an experience I’m so glad I didn’t miss! At the end of the satsang, Swamiji called us both up to the stage. He presented each of us with a shawl as a gift from him. There was emotion and hugs (again). I know from others in the community that that no one ever hugs Swamiji. It is a very strict environment where every action is carefully orchestrated and, Swami’s schedule and choreography is pre arranged! When we were accepting the shawl, I asked Swami if we could hug. He said "Yes, definitely. You are beautiful" And we hugged, sincerely. That was the best gift of all! I really love that guy. I feel blessed…once again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Kullu Valley

The Kullu Valley is in Northern India within the depths of the Himalayan Mountains. Here I feel a sense of awe. Mountains tend to do that that to me anyway. In India the intensity of that feeling is deeper, stronger and heavier.

Our friends, Jerome and Beth live here. They are followers of the Swami Shyam. I have heard about this Guru for many years. He has been a teacher for many of my friends who have spent years living or travelling with him. We have several connections with people who live in this ashram. Coming here was not only about Jerome and Beth, but we came baring hugs and messages for many people in the ashram as well. The bus ride to get here was brutal. We ended up on a local over night bus. The seats were old and dilapidated. The space was packed with people travelling from one stop to another. There was no room for our backpacks and, in the night time darkness, the roads were winding and narrow. I was tired, frustrated and very uncomfortable. It was cheap though and we arrived, in tact, at 5:30 am.

Jerome and Beth met us with delicious hot coffee, warm smiles and a cozy free schedule for relaxation and catching up. We felt landed and welcomed. People from the ashram began to phone with words of welcome and invitations for tea, pancake breakfasts, dinners or lunches. We began to feel overwhelmed with invitations.

Saturday morning we joined everyone for Satsang with Swami Shayam. Before the Guru arrived, the people in the audience invited Paul and me to our front row seats with huge smiles and hugs and words of joy. Swami came in and sat on the stage and immediately began with words of unconditional love and welcoming. He wore dark glasses throughout the entire hour and a half and laughed boisterously and spoke gently.

The celebration of Holi also occurred during the weekend. Holi is a festival of colour. Up until today you could purchase small bags of powder of various colours from local shops and vendors. After purchasing the powders, people mix them with water to make liquid dye. We have been warned about walking down the streets to avoid being squirted with toy guns and becoming covered with the various colours. Each colour represents different qualities wished upon the receiver. Pink is friendship. Orange is progress. Blue is sensitivity, Red is Prosperity. Green is Happiness.

Paul is happy because there are many musical instruments for him to play. Since we decided to travel without a guitar, there are times when he experiences withdrawal! Jerome organized a musical coffee house with people from the community. We had dinner and played music. Paul got to play a keyboard and Jerome put together a drum set. There were enough shakers and bells and sticks and chimes for everyone. It was a lot of fun and a rare opportunity to play with and listen to western music since we’re in India.

Yesterday Beth, Jerome, Paul and I took a day trip to Neggar and Manali. It was such a fantastic day together and being in the mountains was so inspirational, Paul and I decided to take off tomorrow, from Kullu and spend some time in the Himalayas before heading to Delhi and our final stretch of travel in India. It has been a fantastic experience here.