Trash is a very public part of Indian life. Almost every square inch of ground is covered in rubbish of some sort and even the trash is a colorful sort. Everywhere you look here are little green and red foil packets from beetlenut chew, empty yellow potato chip bags, colored newspaper scraps that remind me of Sunday comics, water bottles with bright blue labels, and the dastardly plastic bags, which despite a nationwide ban are ever-present. There is trash in the streets, in the river, in the jungles, and in ditches. I struggle with the idea that Rishikesh is a holy city and yet they litter it with trash. It is hard for me to understand either how they can revere the Ganges so intensely and travel for days to arrive at her banks for ceremony and then throw trash in her. However, it is also hard for me to understand how in America our homes can be so spotless and our hands rubbed nearly raw with hand sanitizer, and yet we spend no time every day detoxifying our bodies or our minds with yoga and meditation.
One of the spiritual practices I was so lucky to be introduced to by my mother is called Ho’oponopono. It is an Hawaiian practice whereby you accept that since you create your reality from the vibration that you offer, whatever comes into your experience is your creation on a vibrational level. You are never a victim and everything in your experience is both your responsibility and your opportunity to clear. Therefore the trash in India is my trash. It is a representation of the trash, clutter and dirt that litter my subconscious and sometimes conscious mind. It is therefore my opportunity to clean it up and to clean me up. In the tradition of Kundalini Yoga, doing daily spiritual practice is also seen as “taking out the trash” everyday. This can be in the form of meditation, prayer, chanting or yoga. In particular, there is a kriya called So Darshan Chakra Kriya, which helps you remove the unconscious garbage from your psyche.
Karma yoga, which is yoga through selfless service, is a spiritual path where taking out the trash is taken very literally. Many spiritual leaders have corroborated my belief that karma yoga is my spiritual path in this lifetime. In order to bring some attention onto the problem of trash, to encourage people to pick it up and to clear my subconscious of my own garbage, I dressed in full white bana, which is the traditional garb of a Kundalini yogini and my “Sunday best” outfit in India. My flowing white chuni fastened to my turban looked rather like a bridal veil, and I walked through the streets of Rishikesh chanting in Gurmukhi, a language not often heard in this Hindu holy city where Sanskrit is the norm. I chanted “Guru Guru Waheguru, Guru Ram Das Guru” which honors the Lord of Miracles and calls upon the humblest of the Sikh gurus to help me in my seva. I walked through the city picking up trash and praying to God to help me clear out my own garbage in my heart and mind.
Everyone stared, but I didn’t care what they thought of what I was doing. Picking up trash is traditionally only done by the untouchable caste, and they certainly weren’t prepared for someone rather ghostly in all white to flutter through the streets picking up trash. I made my way through the marketplace down to a main ghat in the city, which is a platform along the Ganga from which people take their dips into the river, wash their clothes and relax, accompanied by the dogs, cows and beggars who live there. I stepped into the Ganga and picked trash out of her, grabbing plastic bags, newspaper and bits of food packaging wherever I could reach. All the while I said prayers to Mata Ganga, thanking her for all the clearing she was doing on my heart and spirit and offering back to her this very small act of cleansing her physical self in return.
Don’t allow yourself to be fooled into the thinking that if you didn’t throw the trash it isn’t yours to pick up. The problem is never outside of ourselves. Yogi Bhajan gave us this sutra, or teaching, for the Aquarian age and it is repeated throughout philosophies and spiritual traditions all over the world: “Recognize that the other person is you.” It is your trash, whether you threw it there or not, because you are one with the person who did the throwing. Therefore by cleaning it up, you purify not only yourself, but also the person who did the throwing. We are one cosmic, vibrant being and must begin to act accordingly. Far from making it “all our fault”, this simply means that we are divine beings whose boundaries and capacities extend far beyond the limits we imagine for ourselves. We should not allow our egos to rise up, thinking we are too good to lower ourselves to something like picking up trash. This is a dangerous impediment to a truly spiritual life.
India is very dirty on the outside, but you find yourself getting very clean on the inside of your heart and mind. In America, on the other hand, it is very clean on the outside, but your heart and mind become murky and muddled. Trash heaps up in India uncollected in the outer environment, but your inner environment has an opportunity to clean itself out. Your thoughts settle, your subconscious clutter is picked up by the garbage man. America is sterilized and bleached, but our subconscious is filled with every imaginable and unimaginable form of trash, garbage, clutter and random thoughts. Which is more dirty? Which is easier to clean?
Try this spiritual practice of karma yoga in your own life. Find a place near you with litter, such as a park, a road, a forest, a river. Take a garbage bag, plastic gloves if you need, your ipod full of spiritual chants or devotional music, and pick up the garbage in your outer world. Make each piece you pick up represent some part of your inner garbage that you are cleaning up. Honor Mother Earth by humbling yourself before her in service. Notice how light and clean you feel afterwards and feel the energy of gratitude that vibrates from the land you have cleaned up.