Welcome Home

The title of this blog comes from the words of Indian Prime Minister Nehru after the passing of Mahatma Gandhi. "The light that shone in this land was no ordinary light," Nehru said of the peaceful modern saint. The name of this blog, which chronicles my journey deeper into Spirit, is to remind us that there is no such thing as an ordinary light. The spiritual scriptures of many traditions such as the Bible, the Vedas, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the Koran and others all tell us that God is Light and so are we. It is the essence of who we are as a universe. Turn on your inner glow and shine it like a search light across the darkness of the world. We are the stuff of suns and stars.
We are no ordinary lights.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Garden of Eden

Just north of the Lakshman Jhulla Bridge in Rishikesh, up the stairs from the German Bakery and past the bends and twists of Tapovan, you find the Garden of Eden. It is a surprising place to find paradise, in the middle of dung fires, mangy stray dogs and dust storms. But nevertheless there it is. Ramana’s Garden. Home for Destitute Children, as the sign says.

When I first heard of the orphanage in town, I had images of Oliver Twist and a dark nightmare out of Charles Dickens, where children are punished when they ask for more food. India constantly surprises. Just when you expect to see the worst of everything, you come upon the best. An American woman started Ramana’s Garden twenty years ago because she thought she could make a difference. And what a difference she made.

There are gardens sprouting everywhere, growing the organic produce fed to the children and used to make food in their café, which supports the running of the orphanage. The children themselves are smiling and laughing, and game to join you for a dance or a joke. There is a playground, schoolrooms, and even a yoga hall.

In this yoga hall, I taught Kundalini yoga to the children. Yogis all, some could do advanced asana such as arm balances, and most of them were familiar with the most common Kundalini mantras, seasoned by volunteers from years past. It was not difficult to get them to pay attention or stay interested. They were so excited to be doing yoga.

When they discovered that my iphone took video after class one day, I became an instant Bollywood producer. Each little girl wanted her own solo dance scene. There was so much love and so much joy, you would never know what hard lives they had already lived.

You would never know that the little girl dancing the bhangra for my iphone video had been found unconscious after having been ganged raped in a Delhi bathroom by the men her father sold her to. You wouldn’t think that the boy who could do such good headstands in yoga class got those scars on his head when the Maoists set him on fire. You couldn’t know. They have such a special glow and sweetness to them. They live in the now moment, and that moment is now good.

While I taught them yoga, the children taught me to live in the now. I hope I have been a good student. I hope I have been able to integrate some of their precious wisdom. Let the past go. Let the drama drain out of you. Find the grace of God in the present moment. Listen to the sound of your breath. Marvel at it. Smile at it. Dance with it. Let the beauty that can be found in the most unlikely places on this planet take root in your heart and bloom into a Garden of Eden wherever you are.

You can help Ramana’s Garden by making a donation at www.friendsramanasgarden.org

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kumbh Kraziness

I do not think I exaggerate: the entire state of Rajasthan was camping outside my door. To walk anywhere, you stepped over sleeping bodies, cooking pots, dirty bags that had been carried on heads for days, saris draped over bushes to dry, stray dogs and the obligatory cow patties.

I do not think I exaggerate: the entire state of Rajasthan was unsure of whether or not I was real. Old ladies poked my face with one finger and looking quizzically at my response. Old men touched my turban. Young men stood 4 inches from my face and stared, not responding to anything I said. Young girls either giggled or cried at the sight of me. Whole groups of women walked up to me and touched my clothes, stroked my skin, pinched my cheeks, pulled my turban and tried to take my jewelry off.

I do not think I exaggerate: the entire state of Rajasthan was either lighting a fire to cook food, or burning trash, or burning dung and otherwise creating such a cloud of smoke that the cough in my chest has me worried about pneumonia.

I really, really don’t think I am exaggerating. If anything, there is nothing I can say to convey to you the craziness of Kumbha Mela and the last royal bathing day in Rishikesh. The roads to Haridwar closed and they diverted all the pilgrims to Rishikesh. If you went out onto Swarg Ashram, the road in front of the ashram, then you would absolutely smashed between the most beautifully colored saris, tattooed arms and plastic bangles and their wearers. On all sides you were boxed in, smooshed, and crushed nearly to death. People pushed and pushed to move forward. If you weren’t going fast enough for the person behind you (never mind the fact that there was absolutely no where to go as a wall of bodies was stopped in front of you) the person behind you pushed, poked, and even grabbed your butt to get you to move forward.

For an entire week, Rishikesh was a sea of crazy. It felt crazy, looked crazy, and was crazy. Plus, it was almost 110 degrees. The heat was so hot you couldn’t do anything in the afternoon but take a cold shower, lie naked under your fan and try not to move.

It was amazing to think that these people had left everything…whole villages emptied, jobs were left, everything stopped in order for people to walk, pack buses, ride on trucks, cram into trains and try anything and everything to make it to the Ganga in time to dip in her holy waters on just the right day so that their karma would be released. All came: the sick, the weak, the old, the frail, and the babies. Such is the determination of the faithful.

I wonder what would happen if we showed up for ourselves with as much faith and determination as pilgrims show up for Kumbh. What if we believed in our potential to heal and bless as much as they believe in Mata Ganga’s? What if we stopped at nothing to find our true path? Measure your faith in yourself. Would you walk for a week across hot sands and brave stampedes just to arrive at the home of your own soul and say, “I believe in you. Bless me!”

Oh my soul, grant that I look to you with as much faith as the pilgrims to Kumbha Mela. May I honor you, my sweet spirit, on your path and may my actions support your growth and evolution. Oh beautiful divine of my heart, help me to walk across a thousand lifetimes to arrive at the feet of the true beloved, full of faith, full of determination, at whatever the cost.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Durga Emerges in the Marketplace and Leaves Gopala in Her Place

In the morning, I often make a long hike (forty-five minutes each way) up to the orphanage called Ramana's Garden to teach the children Kundalini yoga. It’s an exhausting walk in the heat and a true labor of love for these special children.

One day on the way home from teaching the children, along a dirt path next to the Ganga framed by beautiful cactus and bougainvillea and populated by orange-drenched sadhus, I saw a black cow walking along the path. She was struggling. It appeared that her leg was broken, perhaps having been run over by one of the crazy motorcyclists that zoom along at break-neck speeds. With every step, she would groan the most pitiful sound and as she put weight on her leg to move, she would dry heave from the pain. Although I am not a cow behavior specialist, it was pretty obvious that she was way beyond the point of pain. Before me, I had the definition of agony.

She was searching for food. I looked both ways down the road for a produce vendor, who set up their ramshackle carts with greens, turnips, cucumbers, papaya, grapes and mango. The only man some ways down along the road had a cart heavy with cucumbers, which he would juice for people to quench their thirst. I ran to him and bought some cucumbers whole and raced back to find the cow. By now, she had walked into a gated garden next to the one of the simple homes given by an ashram to a sadhu to live in until his death. I went into the garden and walked down a lane back into the forest. I saw many cows, but not her. In the garden, a sadhu stood on a ladder pruning a tree. I caught his attention and asked him if he had seen a hurt cow and I mimed a cow with a broken leg and made a horrible sound. He pointed to the rear of the forest, and I walked up to her and put the cucumbers in front of her so that she could reach them easily. I went back to the sadhu. In very simple English, I said that the cow was badly hurt and did he know a doctor for her? He told me that she comes every day looking for food and said, “What can you do, madam?” quite indifferently.

The fact that this man had seen her suffer day after day and had not bothered to try to help her inflamed me. You earn the right to call yourself a holy man in my eyes not after initiation ceremonies or taking a vow of poverty. You earn it through compassion and service. I looked at the sadhu, so indifferent on his ladder. I uttered seriously, “You had better never so much as think the name of Lord Krishna again until you help his beloved cow.” Lord Krishna is a beloved avatar who guides Arjuna through battle in the Bhagavad-Gita. Cows are sacred to him and receive his special blessings. People walk through the streets touching their heads to get a boon of grace. I cannot allow that the same people who would touch this cow’s forehead to receive grace cannot find it in their hearts to try to help give her some grace in return.

What can I do? I can refuse to allow a creature to suffer. I can try to find help. I can do something other than shrug at someone’s agony and say “karma.” And so I made it my mission to get her help. I gave the sadhu a final withering look and went to search for someone else who could help. I immediately thought of Santosh, my friend of the Brown Bread Man shop, who had helped me when Beatrice the French lady had lost her shoes. (See blog entry “A Pair of Shoes and a Cow.”) I ran the distance to Santosh’s shop, filled with the sounds of the cow’s pain. I explained the situation to Santosh. It didn’t get much of a reaction out of him. So I decided again that a higher level of emotion was going to be required to get my point across. I started to cry. I told him how much pain she was in and how it wasn’t right to let her suffer. He called a vet. But the vet wouldn’t come because a certain bridge was closed for Kumbha Mela, and he would have to walk across the river. I told Santosh the vet’s legs weren’t broken and he should get over here. But as often is the case in India, the person in a position to help, isn’t moved to do so. I was furious.

I went to the ashram to find Siddhi Yogi, (see blog entry “The Ayurvedic Shaman”) who I knew worked with animals. When I finally found his room, he was sleeping but woke up to talk to me. I told him about the cow and asked him to come help. He said he couldn’t leave the ashram, but proceeded to go into meditation and find her soul. He made some agonized sounds and favored his leg and then opened his eyes and told me a recipe for a poultice that I needed to bind around her leg. I told him that I was sure the cow would try to kill me if I touched her leg. He admitted it was a problem, but offered no solution.

This process was fast exhausting me. I left Siddhi Yogi because I had to teach my yoga class at Parmarth. I went to class and told the students about the cow and about taking our yoga out into the world through compassion in action. I taught my class and when it was finished, immediately ran back down the road where the cow had been and went to find the old man dressed in white who had told me I was doing good work (see blog entry “The Light of the World”). I walked up to his home, where I could see him staring at me through a crack in the wood. A younger man was peeling vegetables on the front porch. I told him I needed help for a sick cow. The young man asked what was wrong with the cow and I told him. He set down the peeler and gestured for me to follow him. We walked further down the road to a large ashram. We walked into the gate, down a seriously of steep stairs and then came onto the beach. A few people sat in meditation. “Wait”, he said and left.

The ashram was beautiful in location if very simple in build. Unlike Parmarth, the buildings were dirt floors, with one wall and a ceiling and open to the Ganga. The natural setting was stunning, with beautiful white beaches, a cliff next to the Ganga with a Shiva lingam on it, and large boulders deposited from glaciers that melted long ago. As I was admiring the view, an old Indian woman came up to me and in beautiful English asked me what I wanted. I told her about the cow and her agony and how no one would help. She smiled kindly and told me that her guru had set up this ashram specifically to take care of the cows. She asked questions about the cow, how she looked, where she was, et cetera. She then told me there was a vet coming that evening to take care of some other sick cows and that they would help her, too. She kept nodding at me, saying “Very good, very good.” Then she handed me a large leaf and spooned daal into it. “Eat.”

I ate. The daal was very rich and thick. The warmth calmed me down, almost as much as the idea that someone agreed with me and was going to help. We smiled at each other for a while and then I said I had to go as it was getting late. She told me to come back sometime and I promised I would.

The day was staggeringly hot. Walking back to Parmarth Niketan when the heat hung in the night was no easy task. I was dehydrated and emotionally spent. As I went to buy some water, I saw what I least wanted to see. A beggar was beating Beatrice, my favorite cow and the occasional star of this blog. She would try to get away and he would pull her tail. I lost it. I flew at him and started yelling at him to get away from my cow. He let her go and brushed me aside, dismissing me. “That cow is under my protection! Don’t touch her! Don’t you dare touch that cow! May Krishna curse you if you even so much as look at her!” He walked away. The vendors around knew me and were very surprised to see me in my white turban and chuni, usually so calm and meditative, channeling the ferocious protector goddess Durga. “He’s just crazy,” one said to me. I spun at him. “Unacceptable. If he is crazy, then your obligation is to protect the defenseless from him. You should protect the cows from his anger or you are no better.” They hung their heads. I bought some bananas for Beatrice and stroked her neck to calm her down.

I had never lost my temper in India before. I felt like Durga sprang from my body out into the marketplace to do battle for the innocent. I am a little embarrassed, as if I should maintain meditative peace at all times, but I am reminded of the spiritual tradition of the Sikhs, which requires strength and the fearlessness to do battle on behalf of the innocent. I know now that strength is alive in me.

One unexpected outcome of this day is that both Siddhi Yogi and a beggar on the street I never really noticed before have begun to worship me as the divinity Gopala. Both at separate times have touched my feet and bowed, chanting “Gopala, Gopala, Gopala, Hare Gopala” as I pass. Gopala is an aspect of Krishna, a lovely, white-skinned sheperd who takes care of his cows and protects them from harm. Durga emerged in the marketplace and left Gopala in her place to maintain peace.

The black cow was eventually taken care of by the ashram next to the beach. And my beautiful white Beatrice and her Gopala are often seen sharing a banana and a snuggle by the Ganga, Lord Krishna dancing and playing his flute in the sand.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Guru Sparky and Her “Ma”

Last November there was a young dog who would come visit our yoga class regularly. She loved to get up on stage and sit on the teacher’s pillow and be the center of attention. She picked up the name Guru Bambi from her resemblance to the Disney character and her desire to sit in front of the microphone during class to “teach”. One women fell in love with her and decided to adopt her and take her back to the US. Guru Bambi currently lives and teaches yoga in Washington, DC.

Last month a dog who bears strong resemblance to Guru Bambi started to come to my class. She was lively and animated, always wanting you to jump and play with her. I named her Guru Sparky to honor her apparent family tie to Guru Bambi and her playful nature. She is too shy to come into the classroom and never seems to want any of the food you offer her. She will, however, lie on her back for hours while you pet her belly.

One night for evening meditation, I led the Divine Shield Meditation. You sit in a particular fashion with one hand cupping your ear and chant “Maaaaa”, singing to the universal mother and listening for her response. For a half an hour, forty people from all over the world sang to our divine mother, chanting “Maaaaaaa” with all our hearts. As we closed the meditation, I spoke about the universality of the sound “Ma” and how it has come to represent the word for Mother in languages all over the world. We all share our divine mother and know her name.

Just then, Guru Sparky ran into the room with an older female dog. They ran around the room playing with each other for a few seconds and then ran out. Guru Sparky had heard our chant and wanted us to know that animals speak the language of “ma”, too. She introduced us to her mother. If we had been listening for a response from the divine mother, we could have heard no stronger message.

The mother of our soul is listening. She hears us. She might even come to play sometime.

Oh, and Guru Bambi? Your mom says “Hi!”

The Dance of Six Year Old You

In my Kundalini yoga classes I often ask my students to get up and dance as part of a kriya. Most of the time, they shyly get off the mat and start looking around. They listen to the music and sway slightly, waiting for someone else to be the first to pick up the rythym of the music. They look at me, as if I am going to show them exactly how to dance and which steps to use. I’ll tell them to get off the mat and move to the music. They hesitate. Sometimes they ignore me altogether. Usually there is one free spirit who gets things going, and the rest of the group loosens up and begins to dance. Most of the time, it is not a full-tilt boogie, but rather a nursing home bossa nova.

Today in class, I decided this kind of half-hearted dancing was unacceptable. “What would the six year old you say if I told him or her that when they grew up, they wouldn’t even like dancing? That when I asked them to dance in class, they would just stand there? What on earth would six year old you think of you now?”

“I think the six year old you would say ‘Nuh-uh! Not me, I’m gonna be a great dancer! I’m gonna show you! I’m gonna jump and leap and twirl. I’m gonna love dancing!’ Put aside your ego! There no such thing as a dancing fool, only a fool who doesn’t dance!”

The class got in touch with their younger selves and beautiful dancers emerged. Swinging, twirling, whirling little girls with ballerina dreams appeared before my eyes and became the dance. I could see temple dancers from ancient India emerge from within them and saw old men reclaim their youth on the dance floors of their memories.

When was the last time you really danced? Danced like six year old you dreamed you would? Put your whole heart and your whole body into the music and left it there? When was the last time you swam in a pool of music? Angels envy us these bodies, with which we dance for God. Use them! Put on some high vibration music and dance the Dance of Six Year Old You!

The Universal Waiter

There is a restaurant in Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganga that has a roof top perch much like a treehouse. I retreat there when my stomach threatens mutiny if I eat one more meal of rice and daal. The two ceiling fans do nothing to decrease the oppressive heat this time of year, but the sight of Ganga is like doing Sitali pranayam for my soul. Named “Tip Top”, the English spoken here is as simple as the name suggests.

One waiter in particular speaks very limited English. No matter what you say to him, he responds with a yes. “Can I have my bill?” “Yes.” “May I have extra onions?” “Yes.” “Does this turban make me look fat?” “Yes.” Whether or not he responds to your request in the way you would like is questionable, but his positive response is clockwork.

He reminds me that the universe is always saying yes to the vibration that we are offering. Feeling depressed? “Yes!” says the universe, “Here’s more depression.” Convinced that all men are liars? “Yes!” says the universe, “I have another liar for you!” By the same token, if you persistently offer up a vibration of joy and peace, the universe says yes and brings you more of the same. It has to do with the quality of your electromagnetic field and the weight of your karma. Karma is simply the sum total of your vibrational offering.

This doesn’t mean that the universe is necessarily specific in the way you might anticipate. It doesn’t mean that when my friend recently had a lizard run up her pants while she was sleeping that she had specifically requested this experience from the universe before she went to bed that night. But she did feel uncomfortable at the ashram and she was unhappy with her room. Both of these thought forms are states of mind which would increase if a lizard ran up your pants in the night.

I am so grateful to this waiter, who always says yes, for reminding me to watch my words and hold my vibration into the pattern of what I do want, rather than the alternative. Asking for specifics is tricky, both with the universe and with Indian waiters. Best to smile at both in gratitude and joy and see what they bring.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Lord of the Flies

You cannot miss the flies in India. Where there are cows, there are flies. There are large swarms in the sunny spots in front of the ashram and no matter where you go to hide from them there is no hiding place they can’t find. When you meditate, they land on your arms or your face, seriously challenging your concentration. Some of the students in my yoga class have outbursts over the flies, swatting them away continually. The flies don’t take it personally, however, and come right back.

Ever since the Dalai Lama’s visit, where I saw him rescue bugs from the floor so they wouldn’t be trampled, I have been examining my relationship to all things creepy crawly. I cohabitate with the ants in my bedroom peacefully. Although I get annoyed when they get into my food, I never retaliate with violence. They live here too after all, and their community is large and well established. I’m only here for a few months, and I can afford to share my honey from time to time.

I have also taken on a new perspective on the flies. As they land on my body while I meditate, instead of feeling irritated and uncomfortable, I have begun to respond with love. “Sat nam, fly,” I think. “Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to deepen my meditation practice and stay focused despite outside stimuli.” I send a vibration of love and gratitude to the flies instead of annoyance and frustration. What a powerful change that makes in the strength of my energetic field. During the powerful time of meditation, instead of offering annoyance to the world, I am free to offer gratitude.

The more I think about flies, the greater an appreciation I develop. It is easy to dismiss them as nasty creatures that hang around the cow dung on the streets. But what a miracle that what most living things dismiss as disgusting, the flies can see as an enormous blessing and a source of food and life. They recognize the fertilizer when most creatures only see the dung. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, as they say.

In one of my favorite quotes, Yogi Bhajan said, “If you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all.” I understand this more and more everyday. I have begun to see God in the smallest fly. The Lord is in the flies, of the flies, and as the flies, too. There is a purpose for all creatures, and they are all my brothers and sisters. Thank you, Dalai Lama, for reminding me to look on the floor for opportunities to be of service. I am reminded of the Christian song that says “all creatures great and small, the Lord God made them all.” Thank you, flies, for helping me see God in the smallest things and for challenging me to strengthen and deepen my meditation practice. Sat nam, creepy crawlies!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mind the Bugs

When the Dalai Lama was sitting on stage this week, during insufferable heat and very long speeches, people were throwing flower petals onto the stage to honor him. I watched His Holiness look carefully among the petals. He reached down and sifted through the floral offerings and began to pick up several bugs, one at a time. Each time he turned and offered it to a monk behind him to take outside. It was as if there was nothing more important to His Holiness than to make sure the bugs were taken care of. No speeches, no dignitary, no accolade was more important to him than the simplest of creatures.

It struck me that if you pay attention to your karma on a small scale, your frame of mind will be such that you cannot help but to mind it on a large scale. The old British saying goes “Mind the pence and the pounds will mind themselves.” If you mind the bugs, literally watching your interactions and intentions with the smallest creatures and getting into a habit of compassion for the little things, then your interactions with the larger creatures around you will be smoother. Mind the bugs and your interactions with people will take care of themselves. The atmosphere of kindness and compassion you will have cultivated in your heart will have become a habit and you will interact with everyone in the world with more grace and ease.

Hello Dalai!

There is a beautiful practice in the tradition of Kundalini Yoga called the Sopurkh that involves the recitation of a certain mantra 11 times a day. The Sopurkh was given by Guru Ram Das, the 4th guru of the Sikhs, to women as a way of helping women to raise the vibration of the men in their lives. A woman can say the Sopurkh for a particular man in her life such as her husband, to help him live up to his full potential, or she can say it even to attract into her life her perfect mate if she has not met him yet. The Sopurkh, if said for a minimum of 40 straight days, is said to manifest God in physical male form in front of a woman.

I had been reciting Sopurkh for 39 days for the men in my life. It was a beautiful, healing process that I could feel was releasing my own karma around men. Many nights I had dreams where I met old boyfriends for tea and we had conversations about our present day lives and said goodbye. I could feel karma lifting and ties being cut. I could also see positive changes happening in the lives of the men for whom I was saying the prayer.

On the 40th day of my half an hour recitation of the Sopurkh, I met the Dalai Lama. He came to Parmarth Niketan to speak and stayed in a room just down the hall from mine. He shook my hand and looked kindly into my eyes. Ladies and gentleman, the Sopurkh works. God in male physical form was manifested in front of me on the 40th day. One week previously I had not even an idea that the Dalai Lama would be coming to Rishikesh and on the 40th day of my meditation, I received the blessing of the one who many consider to be the holiest man alive.

I’m still reeling from the meeting. His energy was graceful and peaceful, self confident and humble. I certainly can’t stop my meditation now…if that happens at day 40, what can happen at day 90 or even day 1,000?

A beautiful recording of the Sopurkh was done by the lovely Nirinjan Kaur Khalsa (Sopurkh That Primal God) and can be purchased on www.spiritvoyage.com.