Sunday, February 22, 2015

Gurukala, This Time Around

The breeze flows gently through the trees as I lie in savasana this morning. It’s quiet. No one stirs around me. An occasional car horn sounds from the road a mere 200 feet through the trees. Though the sound of rubber on the roads is constant, the brush hides passersby from my vision. Empty branches provide camouflage although occasionally a shiny flash from a cyclist’s helmet speeds by. Other than that, the road is invisible. So am I.

The Gurukula is sleeping this morning, most people exhausted from yesterday’s Pooja celebration.  The annual event has traditionally been an opportunity to give back to the villagers of Kagliapura for all that they do for the Gurukala all year. Using the Guru’s birthday as an excuse to celebrate, family members and friends of the Gurukala gather to cook and decorate and entertain community. It is a joyful day for prayer, learning, celebration and sharing a meal together.

In preparation, we put up tents all over the land to accommodate those guests who ch0ose to sleep over. Cooking happens throughout the night in outside kitchens temporarily erected for the purpose. There are cooking jobs for anyone who wants to participate. Our plan is to serve 150 guests during the afternoon. Ravi, the chief chef and Mah’s son-in-law, is our ‘fearless leader’ - planning, shopping, delegating, cooking and serving the bunch. Music plays into the wee hours and is there to welcome the sun in the morning, with delicious breakfast and then lunch.

Curries, rice dishes, an array of fresh vegetables, chutneys, papadam and salads leave no body hungry! Sweet paisam finishes off any cravings one might have. Lined up against the walls of the prayer hall, people come to eat from banana leave plates and drink water from paper cups. It is a full day of friendship, interaction and party. Not every day is like that at The Gurukula.

It’s a very special place here. Somehow I get lost in the experience of gathering with others to create sacred space for cooperative celebration. Here, extended family and friends share a vision of communal living and giving back to the universe. People who thrive together working towards a better world care about their own wellbeing as well as that of others in the community, and ultimately for the greater world.
Guru Muni and me

Gurukula is a place where people come to pray and learn. The leader, Guru Muni lives in Varkala and visits our small Gurukala outside of Bangalore at least once a year. At 76 years old, Guru Muni is a sweet man who jovially shares his ideas with others. I have heard recently someone describing his road to enlightenment as being a bond created between himself and his Guru. Kind words with a gentle humility, Guru shares his teaching with excitement and joy that makes listening to him wonderful, even if, sometimes, we don’t share the same ideas.

Something happens to me at Gurukula. I lose myself when I’m here, and yet I find myself at the same time. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I feel a sense of unencumbered freedom that inspires my daily activity.
Mah and me

Perhaps it is my relationship with the Gurukula Mother, Mah. Over the years, we have become extremely close. Ours is a beautiful example of when “East meets West”. Mah is deeply learned and a spiritual seeking soul. She lives simply, and peacefully seeking calm within the geographic limitation established by the Gurukala and by India in general. Only recently, since having been granted Sennyasa, has she ventured from her physical roots to learn more about her world.

And then there’s me. I too seek spiritual clarity and embrace deeper ways of learning about the world around me. My western background and specific skills drive my expression in ways so different from Mah. And, yet, she and I understand each other and respect the traditions by which each of us expresses our selves. When Mah and I get together, Manju, her youngest daughters laughs warningly and says”Watch out India! Here they come!” Both Mah and I feel blessed with what we share together.

As I lie in Savasana this morning I settle in and ground myself to the earth. I mindfully embrace the pure essence of Gurukula with all it provides for me. I hope I can continue to share that essence with all those I love everywhere in this wonderful world and to bring the best practices together in the beauty of meeting East with West.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Finding Peace Once More

On April 14, 2014 my front tooth completely cracked. It created a dental emergency just hours before the first seder of Passover was to begin in our home. We were hosting 16  guests. Frantic, without a dentist in BC (my dentist for the past five years has been in India) I quickly found an emergency clinic that would take me immediately and at least temporarily, repair the damage.

Two more broken teeth, a broken metacarpal bone in my right hand, and the anxiety of turning 60 have thrown me physically and spiritually into a state of havoc. This confusion is only amplified by the awareness that several close and very dear friends are experiencing effects of disease and each is struggling with their very survival.
Events worldwide have been destructive.  Predominating are episodes of terrorism, misogyny, racism, general disregard for humanity.  There seems to be a total disrespect for our environment in the pursuit of money, and a general loss of hope fills our world. I take these things on, no doubt, absorbing them into my soul!

Distraction and disorder make it difficult for me to focus. Seeking the ‘good’ becomes too demanding, and trying to maintain positivity and peace is exhausting. I know what I need to do, and I struggle with the effort.

My mind is constantly busy. My attempts at meditation have been frustrating and I just can’t seem to slow my thoughts! I’m looking for the place of peace I know is within.

I know. I know. “Focus on your breath.” “Act as an observer of your thoughts.” “Create a mantra for redirecting prana.” These are the words I teach! So why am I struggling so hard to model these ideas?

Here, now, in India, I revisit where I need to be:

Yoga means Unity. When I am practising Yoga, I feel in total harmony with my surroundings. I am able to watch the clouds floating above me. At times I feel myself within the clouds, totally engaged with their movement. And sometimes I even feel higher than the clouds. It’s a little like being in Heaven!

My Yoga practice this week has been fulfilling. “The body remembers,” one of my Yoga teachers reminds me often. Once I’ve found something wonderful, I can always find it again!

My children used to tell me I think too much. Nothing comes easily. Everything becomes an issue and I’m always “on”. I think they are right. Someone once told me I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. I suppose if I stopped thinking, I might not care so much.

Yoga teaches me to ‘focus on my own practice’. My Yoga practice is personal. It is mine and, with some direction, I lose myself in bliss. During my practice I mostly keep my eyes shut. It allows me to go within and focus on my breath and what my body tells me it needs. I function from that place of inner knowing whenever I can.

At the same time… I am a teacher. Sometimes I can’t help it! If I see someone doing something harmful, it’s a struggle for me to hold back. I sometimes ask myself, “How can I keep my eyes closed to what’s happening around me?” I am, in fact, my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. I feel compelled to help those around me, especially when I am feeling strong and able. Balance is critical, between focussing on my own practice and taking care of others.

I have a deep inner sense that I am growing out of the depths of this past year. Symbolically, I am in India for healing. I am here to have dental implants put in and to bring the condition of my mouth to a state of good health. Ayurvedic medicine provides massage and treatment to heal my body mindfully. I am immersed in Yoga and reintroducing myself to my self, where I feel comfortable and good and strong. I am intentionally reflecting on those things in my life that no longer serve me and focussing on the beauty and good that is with me and will thrive with my attention.

I am seeing that proverbial “light” more clearly now and know better how to move towards it. My 60th birthday has passed, I am reuniting with India and gathering from the source of power she offers me. As of last night, all the teeth that required extraction, are gone. No more ambiguity. My personal relationships are strong, and, if they’re not, I know better how to assess whether to fix them or just leave them behind (like I’ll do with my teeth). I have learned powerful lessons from my healing crisis, and know that I will emerge renewed and more at peace as a result.  I feel eternally grateful!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Building Our 'Home'

We’re building a house!  It’s a group effort, really! Our friends Huguette and Mark are the builders. 
Before the Pour
They do everything. We try to help. Sometimes that means staying away! And sometimes we are invited to get our fingers into the process!

I knew this process was going to be a joy, when, the first time we talked about the house, Mark said to me, “When you’re drinking your coffee in the morning, and you’re all alone, what do you want to be looking at from your window?” The designing of the house has been the same ever since. We had regular meetings over the last year, with meals, drinks, casual and still formal, hashing out ideas and, together, implementing them into the design.

We watch as the footprint of our home becomes evident. First step is carefully deciding which trees need to be cut in order to create space. We approach this task with a great deal of care, having real conversations with each of the trees chosen, apologizing for disrupting their lives and promising to use them all, in some way, in the creation of our home. Stacked in anticipation of becoming our floors, ceilings and walls, the trees now are sitting comfortably drying and waiting to be prepared for such purpose.

The dig begins and what we find underground helps determine possibilities. Gabriola’s nickname, “The Rock” is obvious as we begin to make room. On that rock will exist our crawl space and our house is starting to emerge. With Paul and myself in India we leave the concrete pour completely to Huguette and Mark. We suggest placing tangible items in the concrete to include meaning and concepts that are less physical and just as important.

“Huummmm…. that’s interesting!” I think! I like this!

And so, I begin my journey of self-reflection. “What are the elements I want to embed in the structure of our home? What is important to us? What do we want to perpetuate, conceptually, in the world, even after our physical presence is no longer?

Tomorrow the concrete will be poured. The walls of our house will be erected and the foundation on which our shelter stands will be established. Along with the actual materials needed for a solid, stable structure, our house will also be built upon the following forces, each represented by a symbol for it’s meaning:

1-            A wooden spoon represents Family and Sustenance. Our family gathered most of the time in the kitchen. We made our food together, for the most part. Each child learned to cook in his/her own way and each one felt a sense of responsibility for our meals. Although I was generally ‘in charge’, everybody participated. I remember when I actually realized that. One day on our way home from school after picking up each of the kids, one of them got into the car and said. “What are we making for dinner tonight?” I knew then, that we had some good teamwork going on!

2-            A candle for light embodies our family’s weekly ritual for welcoming the Shabbat, providing for a day of rest, shedding light on our week to come and giving voice to the gratitude we all shared. Our Judaism is solidly based in the ideas of Tikkun Olam, repairing the Universe, and we tried hard to teach our children to live a conscious life where we are, in fact “our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

Included in the Concrete....
3-            One plastic earring-            One Sunday evening, my then 7 year old step daughter, Julia, comes running into the house after spending a weekend at her ‘other’ home. She had gone to garage sales that weekend and she excitedly came to our house with a present for me. Knowing how much I loved earrings, she had bought me a funky pair of rubber and plastic earrings made of turquoise and yellow, beige and black geometric shapes. I loved those earrings because of their simplicity and the complexity of its intention. May our house always be full of the gift of giving and the joy of receiving.

4-            A photograph of my oldest friend and myself represents long lasting friendships. I feel blessed to have so many special friendships in my life. Sustaining communication is sometime challenging and the benefits are so worth the task! May our house be filled with friendships…all kinds…. new and long time ones, and may the people who live in our house never feel alone!

5-            I’ve represented Love with a handkerchief!  My husband, Paul is the only person I know of my generation who still uses a handkerchief every day! May our new house be filled always with the kind of love that Paul and I share. May on-going communication, thoughtfulness, understanding, and passion thrive here, and may the occupants continue to dream big always.

6-            The Sanskrit symbol of “ohm” is the primordial sound that vibrates through our bodies when we chant. It is the visual representation of universal wholeness and a reminder of the worldly possibilities. For me, it is “home” unencumbered by walls and roofs and a reminder of the boundlessness in one’s own potential. I pray that anyone who enters this house will feel at “home’ within.

And may it all be so…

Monday, February 9, 2015

Biennale Inspiration

In 2012, Fort Kochi hosted it’s first Biennale Art Exhibition. Spanning the entire region of 

Kochi, hundreds of artists, Indian and international, display their works in buildings, on street corners, in parks, and cafes. Multi media and numerous sensory expressions could be found everywhere. Paul and I loved the one price ticket that allowed us to go in and out of displays all over the city.

This year, Biennale has returned and we, once again, are experiencing the vast array of artistic offerings by artists .Some of what we see is particularly unique and inspiring. Some can be (at least from my perspective) somewhat silly and self-indulgent. Yesterday I wandered through an inviting park, especially designed by Valsan Koorma Kolleri for Biennale attendees. Alone for almost an hour, I sat on a rock and wrote…

There’s a place I used to know. I found it today. I used to play here!

There are various shades of green scattered on the earth. The palms reach tall and the tree trunks spread outwards. Their branches provide playgrounds for the birds.

I played here long ago. The swing still dangles lopsided from a rope on a nearby tree, even now. The fallen woods pile high and the brittle leaves make crunching sounds as I walk.

Crows laugh. They don’t remember long ago. They never played here. But I did!

I used to play here! I cartwheeled through the heaps of composted soil. I hid under giant stones that were left alone to settle. I sat quietly and still as the ants crawled on my naked skin and the gentleness of the breeze swooshed them away.

I listened to the crows as they laughed at me until I became familiar. And then, we laughed together.

I clambered up ropes left behind by the fisherman and smelled the tastes of the sea.

I got lost in the luxurious bushes and looped my way around until finally I found my way.

I found my way…the place where I used to play.