Saturday, November 27, 2010

Keeping It Simple

Exhausted…truly exhausted, I have just arrived in Bangalore. I am on my way to a small and very quiet ashram in a town outside of the city. My teacher’s teacher lives there and I am going to spend my last 4 days in India with her. I have no idea what to expect. It is just another adventure that awaits me.

My hotel is a small hotel conveniently located near the bus station. I’m not sure if it’s because the bar of soap they gave me is so small, or if it’s because I am so dirty, but in order to feel clean, I used almost the entire bar in one washing.. It seems to be a clean hotel and the people are really nice, but I think I’ll keep my suitcase closed the whole time just in case.

Settling in quickly, I immediately take a walk around the bustling city. Even at 10:00 at night, the streets are packed. I end up buying myself a bottle of beer to enjoy in my room, and I my way back, stop for a quick masala dosa at the vegetarian restaurant connected to my hotel.

The trip here has been incredible! For me, it’s been a perfect example of why I love India.

The 11-hour train ride from Fort Cochin to Bangalore travels through fields of rice paddies and fields of ancient woods. Kerala is a part of India that is mostly green; beautiful fields growing cashews and coconuts and spices of all kinds pass by from my window. Occasional groups of small mountains are in the distance. Without a map, I’m not sure which mountains they are. These periods of green are sporadically interrupted by villages of multi coloured rooftops and simple cement homes.

For much of the ride, I stand on the shaky platform connecting two cars. Open to the passing scenery, I hang on to both side sand let the strong winds hold me back. I feel a little bit like Kate Winslet flying from the bow of the Titanic. I wonder why, in Canada the cars are closed off, preventing us from experiencing these simple joys of train travel.

The people around me on the train are what really make me love India! Across from me is a family of mother, father and 4-year-old son. Our conversation begins with “Where you from, madam? What country?” That’s a typical ‘pick up’ line for most communication starters. I end up spending lots of good time with the son. We colour together with the markers I have in my bag. He is thrilled when I pull out my monster puppet from my suitcase. I even have a container of play doh that keeps us busy for a long time. But the real gift we shared was this:

During the duration of the trip, it is a treat to purchase the foods that are sold on the trains. Passengers are regularly buying cups of sweet coffee or chai from the men walking up and down the aisles, yelling “Cofi, Cofi”. Or “Biryani biryani... veg, egg or chicken biryani” “Chali Chali (that’s chai). I buy enough coffee for everyone presented in paper cups. Typically, people throw empty cups and any form of garbage out of windows. Of course, that would be a ridiculous thing for me to do. Without garbage cans any where in the train, I take my empty plastic water bottle and I twist my cup to squeeze it into the spout. There I collect my garbage throughout the trip.

As the little boy begins to throw his cup out the window, I offer him my bottle to do the same. He is pleased especially when we share a friendly ‘high five’. The conversation with his parents is about keeping the country beautiful. By the end of the trip everyone in our area of the train are squeezing their garbage into the bottle! There is talk about ‘habit’ and how difficult it is to change. The understanding that the little boy will be forming other habits was definitely realized!

One man, a doctor of forensic science asks me,” What do you like about India?” I like that question. It makes me think. Finally, I answer, “I like the simplicity of India. The gentle spirit of the people allows me to feel safe and accepted. There is no need to be other than what I am. I like that. It’s just simple.”

Later on the same man asks, “In Canada are the trains the same?” I hesitate to answer. I don’t want to insult him. He has no idea how different things are in Canada!

“Yes”, I answer finally, “Much different.”

“How different?” he asks, “Cleaner?…more sophisticated?”.

“Yes….much cleaner and, yes, more sophisticated.”

We both smile knowingly. “But once you get sophisticated, it’s not simple anymore.” I say.

I think we understand each other.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I have been blessed with a spiritual family. Sajee, a Yoga master, his wife Aji, daughter, Vinaya, son Taku, and mother, Suleka, who I call Ama. My stay in Fort Cochin is enriched forever because of the new friendships I have developed with each of them.

Taku is 15 years old. Tall, slim, smiling and quiet, Taku is very talented, and though he doesn’t say much in words, his character is strong and confident. During my visit this month Taku began guitar playing. At first learning songs from the Internet, he sat for hours at a time replaying pop songs and practising until they sounded the way the original artists meant them to sound. Any time I was at their house, Taku was strumming. His music filled the sound space. His sister, Vinaya, proudly says, “Taku is very talented. He plays football, all kinds of sports. He plays music and he’s very smart in school.” Her admiration and love for her brother is beautiful.
Vinaya is 12. She and I had many adventures together. Riding our bicycles through Fort Cochin, we carried out chores, ate lots of ice cream and talked to many people while walking along the beach. Vinaya and I visited the Jewish synagogue in Jew town. It was the first time she had ever heard of Judaism. In the same trip we went to a Jain Temple, another religion she had not known of. It was exciting for me to take Vinaya to places in her own hometown that she had never seen before. I think there were days that we actually tired each other out. Vinaya was a wonderful companion, sharing the simple joys of Fort Cochin!

Amma, is one of my Indian spiritual mothers. Crouching in the corner of her little room, I would find her engaged in prayer and occupied in her own communication with God. The melodic chanting and the eventual sound of the bell, indicating final prayer reminds me to connect to my own God, or, at the very least, my own Godliness. Carefully and lovingly preparing satvik meals for breakfast and dinners sustained me after each yoga practise. Delicious, nourishing and energizing I regularly wonder how she has so much patience to instruct the many soux chefs who try to learn the art of satvik cuisine in her kitchen.
Aji reminds me about my own quest for balance in daily life. She is so pleasantly real and full of love for life. Her strength, like a lion protecting her cubs, is mixed with compassion, understanding, and dedication. Working hard outside the home, she still makes time for others. My Indian wedding experience was enhanced because of Aji’s attentive presence during the entire day and, especially, wearing her sari for the occasion. I think Aji was as excited as I was getting dressed for the wedding, and I never would have been able to get dressed without her! We had such a great time together in Ernakulum where I bought Indian fabric so that she could make me a salwer. What a talented and smart woman!

Sajee, dear Sajee! He is my teacher, my friend, and my spiritual brother. My life is so enriched since he has become a part of me! I learn so much about ahimsa, compassionate living, unconditional love, and unity…Yoga. His strong positive energy, ability to teach others, and openness to listen and share have filled my days with richness. We spent wonderful hours talking together. All I would have to do is call on his cell phone. “Sajee? How ya’ doing?” I would innocently inquire.
“Where are you?” he would reply. “I’m sitting at the beach, just watching the water.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes.” He would inevitably say.
And he was! The hours of conversation we spent together were often profound. And then there were often times of long silences. Whether it was conversation or periods of quiet, most of my time with Sajee, was profound and rich. I will remember his melodic instruction in Yoga and his unique, gentle and loving guidance in meditation. Sajee is, for me, a great Master!
My month is finished in Fort Cochin. My body hurts still sometimes, but my spirit, my psyche and my heart are healthy and full. Thank you to my spirit family. I can’t wait to see you again soon!!!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shilpa Society

My work at Shilpa has been very interesting. The school services about 140 multiply handicapped children, all of whom have a mental disability of some kind. The children, for the most part, seem happy, friendly, eager and safe. At first glance the school seems ideal, servicing many very needy children at one time in a calm and pleasant manner.

I think many of these children are capable of doing more. Sometimes, as professionals, we tend to settle for what comes easily. Instead of pushing capacity and maximizing potential with kids we satisfy ourselves with the small accomplishments. Though many of the children are non-verbal at Shilpa, many can speak and show signs of further literacy potential. Some of them, even with no verbal skills can learn to play a musical instrument appropriate for their physical abilities. Certainly a large proportion of the children could learn enough to improve their possibilities and prepare them for self-respecting and worthwhile jobs.

In the beginning of my work at Shilpa I delivered 49 musical instruments to the school, a commitment that Paul and I made the last time we were here. Tambourines, shakers, little drums, harmonicas, wooden flutes, and assorted percussive instruments ensured consideration of all abilities and physical restrictions. We even made wrist bracelets with bells so that all children…even those with limited mobility, could participate in making music! There is music for everybody!!!

Upon the delivery of the instruments the teachers were thrilled and noticeably grateful. They claimed instruments for their classes and made a plan about how to share them. The experience was exciting and I felt satisfied with our contribution. Since that day, however, I haven’t seen any of the instruments! The place remained quiet until I decided to engage the staff and kids in music making!

The last day together, with my friend Sajee, I distributed all the instruments to the eager students. Beginning with simple patterning exercises, the children were able to reproduce simple, and then more complex patterns of sound! There was such contagious joy as they each played their instruments and laughed. After a while, we played music and just had fun. Those that could…danced. And those with limited mobility simply made noise! The energy exploded. The children were totally energized. Calming them down with some simple breathing exercises, modelled how to create energy in a classroom and still being able to ‘be in control’. Sometimes I think teachers are fearful of too much noise.

Academic instruction at Shilpa is limited. Teachers supervise simple activities but from my observation, don’t really teach. Teaching requires intentionality. Long and short-term goals are necessary in order to clearly identify progress for each child. Teaching is about setting clear objectives and finding the connections for each student to reach them.

I brought a pile of picture books from my closet in Canada. I realized that, between the language barrier as well as the cultural barrier, and the fact that most kids have difficulties holding books, I would need to modify my approach. The physical action required for reading made the skill extra challenging. Good teaching begins with finding the place where your students are. Once that is established, we can take them to the next step, as long as we are clear about what that step is.

Before class, I cut the pictures out of several of the books and glued them (I always travel with a glue stick) onto large slips of paper. After distributing the cards to the kids the next morning, they each dictated a sentence, in Malayalam, for the pictures that they had. The teachers transcribed the sentences onto the paper. Each child was instructed to ‘write something different than the one before”. The children did well, offering diverse ideas and contributing to an array of sentences for each of the illustrations. They were pleased, and, familiar with their own words, several of the students were even able to read it back.

I find working with multiply handicapped children exciting. Even with my belief that all kids can learn, finding the appropriate connection for each child is unique and very specific. Perhaps it is the language barrier. Too much of my interaction with the children is lost in translation! Maybe it’s the attitudes of the teachers who seem a bit too complacent about keeping their students happy and disciplined. Expectations are minimal. Simple completed tasks are accepted as enough with no effort to push a little more. Children are engaged in repetitive tasks that do not offered challenge and opportunities for growth. I tend to push harder and look for ways of pushing just a little bit more. Sometimes challenge, and some degree of pain, is good for growth.

The Shilpa School has a strong history of success and is certainly a haven for hundreds of beautiful children, many of whom might be out on the street bordering on the edge of survival. At Shilpa they are given a bright, pleasant, friendly place to be and everything they need for daily survival. I look forward to my continued involvement there and feel grateful to be associated with such a wonderful place!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Kerala Wedding

My new friends Bomi and Victoria have a daughter who got married this weekend. Early last week I received a call from him inviting me to the wedding and also to the pre wedding dinner. I immediately accepted! What an opportunity for a Canadian girl!

Roshni and Bomi are marrying for love. That is unusual in India where arranged marriages are common. Parents are usually expected to be more adept at choosing a partner for their offspring than the offspring themselves. If, it turns out, that the marriage doesn't work out as well as expected, the parents intervene. Most young people in India are comfortable accepting parents' selections. If the couple marry for love, families of the couple take no responsibility for the outcomes. For Roshni and Bomi convincing their parents to marry, was apparently not a simple task.

The weekend begins with a pre wedding dinner at the bride’s house. It is a ritual to welcome neighbours, friends and family to celebrate, and, share nostalgia about Roshni’s life in her birth-home. It is also a time to bless her future. After the wedding, her home will be with her husband and his family.

The dinner was delicious, but it definitely wasn't about the food! The family and friends were joyous, and welcoming! I met so many wonderful people with whom I had great conversation and made future plans for getting together. time. In a modest home, hidden in the narrow alleyways of Fort Cochin, people wander in and out, eating, talking and socializing. There is no music, no liquor, and no wild behaviours. Just a solemn, quiet and friendly gathering.

Early the next morning I make my way to my friend’s Aji’s house. There we dressed for the day. Wearing a sari is (almost) mandatory at a Kerela wedding, regardless of one’s cultural background. I was thrilled for the opportunity!

Aji chose one of her most vibrant saris for me to wear, and we both laughed as she tried to instruct me about putting it on. With 5 ½ meters of fabric, folded and creased and twisted and draped, I decided to just let Aji dress me. I’m not quite ready to learn how to do it by myself. Too much work. I felt wonderful in a sari, although it definitely would take some time to get used to. I was a bit uncomfortable with the open midriff, and I kept stepping on the long skirt.

The bus ride to Ollur took 2 hours through rough roadways and crowded neighbourhoods. Travelling in India is never boring. Between the compact little villages that line the roads, the treacherous passage on unfinished roads, and the constant beeping of horns, there is always something to grab your attention. The bus, full of Roshni’s family and friends was quiet and sleepy.

Arriving in the village of Ollur I notice that the village is small and compact not unlike most villages in Kerela. Driving through the narrow streets, however, it is evident that there is some degree of wealth in this place. Large, and simple homes line the busy road and well-manicured gardens reflect a more middle class community. I would guess that that might have made it easier for Bomi and Victoria to agree to this marriage for love.

In India, ritual and prayer make up the marriage ceremony. In the Catholic Church, the ceremony is simple with the priest singing from the scriptures. Strictly in Malayalam, I didn’t understand anything, but gestures and common practises led to a feeling of familiarity and understanding. Hands together at the heart, arms lifted in welcome to God, eyes gently closed, all reinforce the solemnity of the ceremony. The marriage is only complete when the bride and groom place their hands on the Bible and join together in their prayers. Then they both sign a contract of marriage.

Sony presents Roshni with a sari that has been purchased by his family. After the ceremony, Roshni is excused from the crowds to change into her new costume. She is now a member of the groom’s family.

When the formal part of the wedding is over, all guests are invited to eat. The hall is packed with tables of food…. curries and rice, chicken, and beef and fish. When I enter the hall, there are no seats at the tables. People eat in shifts. Only when four seats become available did Aji, Taku, Vinaya and I sit to eat. Still….no music, no liquor, no dancing, no wild behaviours. At the end of the meal, I am thrilled to finish the meal with vanilla ice cream. Vinaya and I ate (at least) 3 portions each!

Following the meal, the newly married couple go directly to the groom’s parent’s house, where they will live. It is the first time Roshni has set foot in this home. All the attendees of the wedding accompany them to offer support and protection for the transition. It is then that Victoria and Bomi, say good-bye to their daughter and send her off to live with her new family. I can only imagine the loneliness Roshni must be experiencing albeit surrounded by so many people.

I talked to both Bomi and Victoria on the bus ride home. “How do you feel?” I asked them both separately. Bomi answered quickly, “I don’t feel.” He said. “It just is.” Victoria, on the other hand, responded, “I’m sad. Really sad. And happy too.” I think I understand that!

The bus ride home was unlike getting there. Rain caused several of the roads to close and, typical for India travel, it took double the time to get home! This time though, with music blasting, and guests dancing in the aisles there is a wild expression of life!

6 hours of travelling was worth the 3-hour wedding experience. I would do it again in a flash especially if I get to wear a sari one more time!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Not just a Doctor's Office

Dr. Sreedevi is my Ayurvedic doctor. She’s been doing this for 35 years. She is plump and dark skinned and has a perpetual show of teeth through her broad Cheshire smile. Sreedevi and I have become good friends and I get the feeling she enjoys my visits as much as I do. With her I feel cared for and sincerely loved.
The therapist’s name is Sindhu. Youthful, (24 years) with a gentle and shining beauty, Sindhu is timid in her liveliness. Not comfortable in English, she usually repeats whatever it is I say. The water is very hot, Sindhu”, I might say. “Water hot.” She parrots with the typical Indian head wiggle.

One of the purposes for me coming to Fort Cochin is to deal with (what Western doctors call) arthritis. I just know there is a way to deal with the pain and progressive deterioration of the ailment without the use of cortisone and surgery. In Canada, the cost of alternative practise is prohibitive. In India, Ayurveda is well practised and highly respected as a medical practise. It is inexpensive, and completely manageable especially when considering Canadian Dollars.
There are various types of therapy in Ayurvedic treatments, many of which include massage, medicinal oils, heat, diet, meditation and relaxation. The treatment that has been prescribed for me is called Kizhi (pronounced Kiri). Each day for 7 days I lie on the massage table. The first ½ hour is a general relaxation body massage, to stimulate the blood and warm the circulation. Then for the next hour a therapist applies warm medicated packs to my body to induce perspiration and sooth the joints. The kizhis (packs) are made each time with herbs, medicinal leaves and theraputic oils according to the doctor’s recommendations. The therapist, using two kizhis gently thumps the body with one while the second one heats up. Then she switches so that the application is always very hot.

Yesterday I told the doctor that I am having so much trouble sleeping. Though jetlag could be the cause now, I also have sleeping issues even when I’m in Canada. Sreedevi lovingly handed me two tablets to take at 9:00 tonight and the invitation, “Come tomorrow. We do Shirodhara.”

Shirodhara is a form of Ayurvedic medicine that involves gently pouring liquids over the forehead (the 'third eye'). It is recommended for creating a relaxed mind and body, good sleep, increases memory and will nourish the hair roots. “Okay”, I thought. Let’s try it!
Shirodhara was an experience unlike any I have ever had! The constant and consistent flow of cool oil on my forehead almost immediately quieted my thoughts. I found myself drifting, not sleeping; just flying through the atmosphere. I think I have never felt so relaxed!
Last night was the first night since I’m here that I slept more than 3 hours. This morning I brought flowers to the clinic from a local roadside cart. Sreedevi smiled broadly at me and said “This will make it so you here, with me all day!” Sreedevi is one of my blessings here in Fort Cochin.
Sindhu, Sreedevi and others are people who thrive on the healing of others. They genuinely care to know that what they've done is helping. I feel blessed to have these people in my life. With their love and professional attention I am feeling healthy, strong, and vital!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eating Alone

I know many people, both men and women, who crave the opportunity to sit in a restaurant in solitary bliss with no one to talk to and no other distraction other than being alone and enjoying their food.
Paul and I would often comment on the number of people we saw in restaurants sitting by themselves. “Is he lonely?” “Do you think she wants some company?” “How long are they out there travelling and spending time with no one to talk to?”
I like talking to people. Sharing mealtime is a perfect opportunity for that. Our family ate together regularly. I’m used to rich conversation and eating! Travelling alone does not mean I have to always be alone!
Most of my meals on this trip have been eaten with my Yoga family. It is common to share a meal after Asana practise and meditation. My Yoga teacher’s mother conscientiously prepares a full 4 course Satvik meal while we are practising. Then we all sit together to eat.
Occasionally, I take a meal outside in a restaurant, of which there are many here in Fort Cochin. Usually I decide what kind of food I crave. Choices include vegetarian, and non-vegetarian. And especially in Fort Cochin, there are delectable fish dishes available in restaurants where the cook walks to the water front to chose the fish specific for your order. You can’t get fresher than that!
On Saturday, as part of my day, I decided to try a local dish of grilled calamari and rice. I sat down at one of the outdoor cafes where young men stand on the side of the walkway beckoning hungry pedestrians to eat. Attention was immediate with the offer of menu and “What would you like to drink, miss?” (They mean soft drinks. Liquor is forbidden in most restaurants in Kerala).
Sitting beside me was a lone Indian woman. Her attempt to initiate conversation, “Where are you from?” was quickly accepted and, before too long, I invited her to join me at my table. We had a wonderful meal together and shared our personal information. Originally from Delhi, she is a journalist for one of the many Indian National newspapers. She was visiting Fort Cochin to cover a story. Conversation was rich and I learned so much about her and about Northern India. When we finished our meal, we paid our own bills and parted. I learned how easy it is to have company even if I travel independently.
Today, I decided to have a late breakfast out. Paul and I had frequented The Kashi Art Gallery and Café when we were here together in February. I decided to satisfy my desire for hot natural oatmeal and brown honey with whole multi grain bread and wonderful pressed coffee. These are not staple foods easily found in Indian cafes. What a treat!
I found the place easily and, leaving my bike outside, walked through the one room gallery of artwork on display. Just past the gallery is a simply furnished restaurant area. Natural wooden tables are strategically aligned to ensure everybody has access to the outside environment. Various species of lizards and other tropical wildlife run freely, (mostly) on the outskirts of the décor, but sometimes make their way closer to tables of feasting patrons. As I walked through the entire restaurant I was disappointed to find only one empty table that was in the front corridor. It wasn’t my first choice, but I happily sat down to order.
Within a minute, a brown haired, bespectacled man approached me to inquire if I was sitting alone. “Yes.” I said. “Would you like to join me, or, if you like, I’ll join you?” he suggested.
I felt completely comfortable accepting his invitation. and got up from my table to follow him to his spot, right middle of the of the outdoor area. There he had been enjoying his coffee and reading. We spent the next two hours talking and sharing cup after cup of pressed coffee and food.
It turns out, Matt is a British 43 year who married the love of his life three years ago, having met her during his first trip to Kerala. She is Malayalam. He is British…not a usual match here in India where marriages are usually carefully arranged and organized by the parents of the bride and groom. His stories are rich and unique!
The people here genuinely like to interact. There is sincerity and joy in communication and an honest regard for others. I understand that. I feel very comfortable with it!
I’m happy that I’m not afraid to talk to strangers. I feel confident in my intuition about people and often inspired by the depth of interaction and personal information that we share.
My boys often make fun of me for talking to strangers. They often chide me for smiling to people on the street or initiating conversations that lead to extra minutes of talking. They sometimes (respectfully) warn me, “Mom. Now don’t talk to anybody!” as we enter a bar together or meet at festivals or public gatherings.
I don’t listen to them though. I like people. I like talking to them. I enjoy listening to their stories and sharing life's lessons through our experiences. If I had my way, I’d never eat in a restaurant alone!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I made a new friend this week. Stephano was selling hats on the waterfront on Friday afternoon. He stopped to try to sell one to me. Once he was convinced I wasn’t buying, he joined me on the stone bench under an old gnarly tree in the park. We stayed there together for over an hour sharing initial introductions.

Stephano is from a small town in Karnataka just outside of Bangalore. His family lives modestly, each of them working hard to have enough to prepare meals and subsist. Though he didn’t say any of this, I would guess there is no running water and certainly no electrical appliances. His two older sisters and their families live near by and all of them work at odd jobs to survive. We talked about his family, his small modest home, his relationships with his mother and father, and the challenges and joys with his siblings. In a short time, we became friends.

Three years ago Stephano lost his leg after being hit by a car while walking down the road. He lost his girlfriend in that same accident, and his job shortly after. He is 26 years old. After the accident, he left his home and came to Fort Cochin where he walks with the help of a short stick, which came directly from a local tree. Today Stephano is selling hats to tourists on the makeshift banks of the Arabian Sea.

When I finally convinced him that I really was 56 years old, he insisted on calling me ‘Auntie’. Auntie is the name of respect for older women. I suppose that’s what I am.

And when we parted, he probably never figured we’d see each other again. Neither did I.

Today I thought about Stephano again. It was late morning and I hadn’t eaten breakfast. I decided to ride in to town, do some chores and meander my way down to the water just to see what might happen. If I saw Stephano, I would ask him to join me for a meal.

Riding through the now familiar streets of Fort cochin I parked my bike at a local shop where the proprietors don’t mind watching it while I’m away. I dealt with my chores and started my stroll down to the waterfront. The quiet was only amplified by the activity. The fish being hoisted from the sea in enormous nets by the busy fishermen seemed aware that they were going to end up on someone’s dinner plate. I could almost hear their mercy cries.

Families, strolling together after their Sunday morning prayers are holding hands, laughing and enjoying their Sunday holiday. Many people make direct eye contact with me. They smile and often stop to talk. Their interest in me is obvious and deliberate. Their laughter and attention towards a white woman from' somewhere' far away comes honestly. Often a person simply extends a hand, shares a smile, and simply says, “Welcome”. In a place where I am so strange, I do not at all feel like a stranger!

After walking for a while and I eventually sit on a rock overlooking the water, feeling completely content and at peace! I marvel at the beauty of the water, the flow of the boats that glide their way through the waters, the colourful array of merchandise lining the grounds of the waterfront. How lucky am I to have this time in such a beautiful place!

As I sit, several people come to sit with me to talk. Babu was one such man. We talk about many things including Yoga. When he starts to talk about Tantra Yoga I warn him that many women might find that a little weird and that he perhaps, might reconsider how easily the word sex flows from his mouth. I trust in his harmlessness, but I’m not sure others would. When he senses I am eager to get back to my writing, he picked himself up and extended his hand as he says good-bye. No harm done! Ahimsa.

I did finally find Stephano sitting with a group of his friends. As I approach, his joy in seeing me is apparent. We reconnect quickly and before long we are walking off to the nearest local kiosk for lunch. “You pay for lunch, Auntie?” he asks, seemingly worried about not having money to pay for it himself. “Of course I will, Stephano. It’s my pleasure.”

We sit at a local restaurant, the kind my mother warns me never to eat in. Stephano knows just what he wants…grilled fish, rice powder and curry which he ate vigorously. “Thank you, I’m not hungry.” I say.

The cook insists that I eat the freshly fried bananas and sip some sweet hot tea. We sit together with other men eating their meals, many of them wanting to find out about me. People pass inquisitively with the same curiosity. My friend responds to their queries with pride. He is happy. So am I.

As we walk back to the water I find it challenging to keep up with Stephano’s fast paced hopping. Never a complaint. No more requests. No expectations. Only gratitude and appreciation.

The meal (with ice cream for dessert) came to 53 rupees. ($1.03) But my new friendship is genuinely priceless.

I know I’ll see Stephano again. I think he knows it too.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Choosing Happy

We have the choice to be happy. That’s what yoga teaches. I sometimes need to be intentional about remembering that. Ego interferes with that sometimes. “Am I good enough?” “ “Do I do enough in this world to be deserving?” “ Am I loved enough?” Do I love enough?” “Is it ever enough?”

These are some of the questions that plague my soul sometimes.

Last night I went for a bike ride into town. I grabbed something to eat and just got on my bike and rode. I’m happy on my bike. I feel free. I observe, feel a part of what’s going on and yet I keep moving as if I’m just passing through. As I glanced over my shoulder, passing a crowd of men laughing together while sipping tea at an outdoor table, an older man with a long white beard called out to me, “Don’t look back, miss. Never look back.”

Only in India would someone shout out comments like that on the street. Its’ simplicity is profound. It doesn’t really take much more thought than that. Just “Don’t look back.”

Ahimsa is the Sanskrit work for doing no harm. It’s also simple. I often think about my behaviours in this life and how I can be better; do more; practice tikkun olam (healing the world). I have come to believe that to live cleanly is a matter of making sure I do no harm. Often teachers in my workshops ask me questions that begin with “Is it okay to….. when trying to help a student?” My answer is inevitably, “It is okay to try anything you think might help, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.” The more ways we interact; the more approaches we use to attempt to communicate, the more likely we will be to help others realize success. Ahimsa….no harm.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Morning in Cochin

There is just something wonderful I feel as I travel through the streets of Kerala. After 28 hours of travel from Canada, I feel absolutely exhausted, and yet I am exhilerated! I am full up. People here are so welcoming and happy. As they see my smile, theirs becomes even bolder. There is a silent communication that happens between us that is so loud. I feel close to many of them as if we are actually brothers and sisters. There’s something so familiar.

I wish I could photograph the noise on the streets. Cars honk at each other vigorously. Bumper stickers here shout “Please Honk!” And they do. There is no road rage. Just everyone driving wherever the heck they want, with no rules, no boundaries and no order. And no one gets angry! It’s crazy!!!

Jet lag is what wakes me this morning. But the life outside is what inspires me to open my eyes. The musical prayer of the muezzin from the nearest minaret comes louder than the vicious spin of the fan above my head. I turn off the fan just so I can hear the rest of the world rousing outside my window.

The birds are waking up too. They begin to squawk with purpose and strive to share their song with each other. I can’t imagine they do not act as an alarm clock for many once the call to prayer has ceased. They have certainly woken me up from the inside.

The mosque reverberates with men’s voices in prayer. I hear them from very far away. There is nothing but the sound of the waking birds to interfere with their sound transmission. I don’t mind being woken. I like being surrounded by others’ prayer.

With the fan off, I hear the mosquitoes and the neighbour washing outside my window. A flute plays softly as she prepares herself for the day. Does anyone know it’s 5 in the morning?

I suppose I’ll make it to the early morning Yoga practice with Sajee. As always, I don’t like having to get up. And I welcome being up for it if I am awake.

There is something very special about the homey streets of Fort Cochin early morning. Men, wrapped in their sheets, stand outside their walkway brushing their teeth. “Good morning” I crow as I pass each one. “Gut morning” they each inevitably reply! The city is waking up and I feel it exploding in my soul! Good morning all!!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Leaving Home

I want this day to last forever and I also want it to end. I’m leaving home tonight for India. For the next month I will be on my own. My love and best friend stays at home. I’m off on an adventure!

My children are grown and independent. My work is good and provides us with enough income to get by. I have a reputation that is strong and promising. I like what I do and I seek balance. I am a partner in a storybook fantastic marriage with a man who supports my sense of adventure and loves me no matter how crazy I appear. I crave time to explore in my own time and in my own way. I want to understand the dance between independence and interdependence. I want to meet new people, practise Yoga, and experience other lands. I want to give Paul the gift of a full night’s sleep.

Too much unfinished business in India left over from Paul's and my trip earlier this year inspires my repeat visit. We had such amazing experiences, sometimes passing through places where I wanted to spend more time. I am doing that now. I am on my way directly to Fort Cochin, a small diverse community in Central Kerela. I’ll be studying Yoga, working in a school for multiply handicapped children, being creative and free, and healing with Ayurvedic treatments.

YOGA.....Sajee helped me bring my Yoga practise to another level. It is through Sajee I began to experience my practise as a prelude to living. His gentle guidance and non judgemental, unconditional love became part of Yoga as I know it now. It is no longer just exercising the body, but an on going practise for life, striving to be a good person and a loving being in search of balance.

WORK.....Shilpa Society ( is the name of a school for multiply handicapped kids. Paul and I visited there when we were in Cochin in February. They’re waiting for me to come and anticipating my working with their kids and their teachers for the month I’ll be there. My luggage is full of books and toys and musical instruments that several people have donated for me to bring to the children there. I love that my teaching practise brings me there. I can’t wait to get my arms around those children.

HEALING.....Fort Cochin is the hub of Ayurveda Medicine. The last time we were there Paul and I made use of the Ayurvedic massage. The doctor there suggested, that in order to really benefit from the Ayurvedic practise, you need at least 10 days. I intend to benefit during my stay this month. In the West they call it arthritis and the remedy is cortisone and then surgery. In India special diet, homeopathy., meditation and aromatherapy might heal my body. I’m going to give it a try and see if the pain goes away.

CREATIVE AND FREE.....I am carrying a guitar over my shoulder. I like carrying a guitar. It’s a little bit like walking a dog. People initiate conversation more. I don’t really play guitar. Not because I don’t want to play. It’s just that I never have time to practise. I am going to learn how to play 5 songs really well while I’m in India. They are songs that I have hand selected. I printed out the words and Paul wrote the chords down. I want to practise. I want to learn to play.

Writing is how I make sense of my world, and, ultimately isn’t making sense of our world what each of us tries to do in life? My world is full of wonder. I want to live it, understand it, and share it always!

I’m off on my adventure…