It is in India that I discovered that there are more opportunities to serve than I ever imagined in life. More people to assist in their journeys, more hearts to soothe, more bags to help someone carry. And when you say yes to these opportunities, when you actively pursue them like its a game of hide and seek to find all these amazing moments where you can represent God on earth and be a balm for someone's pain, what you end up finding is more than a chance to help, it is nothing less than finding a moment where you and God merge completely. Where God's will is your will, where God's actions are your actions, and where God's Love pulses on your heartbeat. Someone prays to God for help, and you get to respond on behalf of the Eternal Universe. I learned that my favorite part of the day in Rishikesh is at night after aarti, when pilgrims from near and far venture down onto the steps leading into the Ganges. I scan the crowds looking for someone who looks unsteady…someone old, or on crutches, or just unsure. And I light up from within, silently bubbling with joy that God sent me someone to help that night, when I finally see that old man trying to get himself down the slippery stairs. I hold his arm, guiding him down to the sacred waters for healing, knowing that my healing took place before I ever got to Mother Ganges. I learned in India that it is a privilege to serve others. Not an academic privilege, like being accepted into Harvard, but an ancient and timeless and vast privilege, like reaching samadhi, and experiencing the state of enlightened bliss within your physical world . To serve, to open your heart and life and mind…every cell of your body (ang sang wahe guru), to serving someone else because you feel with every ounce of you that that someone else is God and you serve nothing less than the creative force of the universe, then to serve becomes an action of Godhood. You feel your true nature. You serve the very biggest, deepest, most sacred part of You. There is no difference between you grocery shopping at Whole Foods in New York City and an rickety old dirty man with sores on his feet trying to get down to the Ganges to bathe his karma away. No difference. No separation. No otherness. And what a privilege, to get to serve yourself. To uplift yourself. To extend a hand to yourself, and say, you mean something wonderful to me, and I love you without fully knowing you yet. How often do we do that? To ourselves, to another person, to God? In Rishikesh, I learned that there are many ways to serve God, but more importantly, I learned that I can light my soul on fire with joy by one simple act…to look at another living being with the eyes of God and so merge with the divine.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
How I came to Rishikesh is its own story. There are many beginnings to this adventure, as one thing in one's life inevitably ties to a hundred others. The past is always more complicated than the open and infinite future. One possible beginning lies in the story of my entry to the world of the Naad, the word for the vibration of the holy words as experienced by chanting. Although I had encountered chanting many times in my life, there is one moment that emerges from the crowd of the others. I went to the Omega Institute in New York a few years ago for some rest and relaxation. There I began an important deepening into my practice of meditation. While at breakfast one day observing silence, I overheard a conversation among other diners about astrology. I felt within myself a judgment towards those who spoke of astrology as a potent spiritual practice, as I felt that it was a potential trap which kept people away from doing more serious spiritual inquiry such as deep meditation. The energy of my own judgment stung me. I decided to incorporate a practice of non-judgment into my meditation routine. Many people place judgment on things out of ignorance. During college, where I was an art history major, I knew that anytime I felt that I did not like a period of art, once I studied it and learned its own unique language and syntax, it quickly rose to a place among my favorites. So I decided since I felt the energy of negativity on astrology, I would research it. I went to the library on campus and began reading many interesting books on astrology. Satisfied with its value, I went to the bookstore to see if there were any materials I wanted to take home for my own collection. As I walked in I passed a cd rack. A photo of a woman in a turban caught my eye, and I heard myself think, "Why on earth is she wearing that turban on her head?" When I felt that familiar prickle of harshness, I picked up the cd, entitled "Shanti" by Snatam Kaur and took it up to the counter to purchase it. For the rest of the week I thought nothing about it. I deepened into my meditation practice, sitting for hours in silent meditation, calming my restless mind, and listening to a powerful voice within. After I returned home, I put the cd into the stereo of my car and pressed play while I was driving. The first song was nice and the singer's voice was clear and compelling. The song changed and by the time Snatam's voice had finished the chorus, I had to pull over my car. I was weeping openly and all I could think was "these are my words" over and over again. I later learned that they were part of Japji, the holy words sung by Guru Nanak and now recited aloud during the early morning prayers of Sikhs. I took out the lyrics in the cd case and began to sing along with my heart wide open and on fire. You might not think that was anything particularly special if you didn't know that I had lost my hearing at the age of 9. Before I lost my hearing, I had a beautiful singing voice and wanted to become a professional vocalist. After I lost my hearing, I went back to my choir teacher to sing for her and the look of shock on her face wounded me so deeply, I decided I could never sing well again. For the next twenty years, I sang only rarely and in a self-mocking manner, distorting and ridiculing my own voice and singing skills. Gradually my voice bent out of shape and lost its natural gift. At the age of 22, I received cochlear implants, which allowed me to begin to explore listening to music again and without which I never would have picked up Snatam Kaur's cd in the first place. There I was after this long journey, really singing my heart out, not well yet, but with an honest desire to sing these sacred Gurmukhi words for God. I sang for hours, weeping in the car, replaying this song again and again. After that deep opening, I have chanted every day since. I began to listen to more of this sacred Sikh music, delighting in the beautiful turns of phrase of the sacred Gurmukhi tongue. There is another long and winding story that involves this music and its enrichment of my life which I will save for another time, but by following this path of song, I found the teachings of Yogi Bhajan and the technology of Kundalini Yoga. I began to embrace the teachings and live as a Kundalini yogini, putting on the turban I had once so auspiciously ridiculed. I healed myself in amazing and profound ways, both physical and spiritual. I decided I wanted to be a teacher, and after a yoga weekend with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, knew that I wanted her to teach me how to share this transformational technique. So I followed Gurmukh to Rishikesh, India where she was giving a Kundalini yoga teacher training for the first time. And so it is that I arrived in Rishikesh, where the Mother Ganges, Mata Ganga, began her work on me. I cannot overstate the energy of this place. There is a power in the water. There is a wisdom in the breeze. There is a strength in the earth. The spirits here teach you, uplift you and push you further along the inner path to God. Rishikesh, the place where my long, winding path continues.