Friday, January 21, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Rain Gods





Unbearably loud --- not a single leaf stands still,
each one joins the chorus
as the wind hurriedly rushes through.

The dark clouds hover over
as the drumming starts in a distance.
People gather together,
to welcome the first rain.
The lightning strikes
as if all the cosmos are assembling for a grand finale.

I look up at the clouds with folded hands
as the zealous wind envelopes my whole body.
And offer a silent prayer to the Rain Gods.

Thinking of the farmers in faraway hilly lands,
who only have work when it rains,
thinking of their little children with empty stomachs,
thinking of the sad grandfather whose cows ran away,
because there wasn’t anything left for them to eat.

The drumming gets louder as everyone impatiently awaits,
the pitter-patter of the first monsoon rain.
I stretch out my hand and feel the first few drops,
anxiously waiting for the showers after such a thunderous show.

But to my dismay everything comes to,
a standstill.
The clouds disseminate as quickly as they gathered.
The temperamental wind decides to go elsewhere for the day.

Only the faithful drumming in the distance remains.
And the silent prayers,
that have yet to be answered.

But it doesn’t rain tonight,
Or the next day, or the next one after that.
Instead the sun shines brighter then ever,
As if to take back its crown.

Until five days later,
As I sit quietly in meditation ...

I hear a few drops hit the tin-roof above,
and then a few more, and then a couple more,
until they all come marching down.

My heart fills with joy.
I could feel the earth being watered,
little seeds will soon start to sprout.
And while I couldn’t hear the drums of the farmers,
I could feel their heartbeats dancing with joy.
The Rain Gods have arrived.

As I sat there smiling in silence,
I knew at least one old grandfather
will be sitting on his porch
wearing the same smile,
thankful that his cows will have to
run away no more,
for there will be plenty for them to eat.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Going Within


Pagoda at Dhamma Giri (The small arches are the underground meditation cells)

The ten days of silent retreat spoke volumes to me as usual. =) The fidgety mind, the hurting body from sitting on a cushion for twelve hours a day, and the un-stoppable thoughts, all add up to taking a really good look at my “self.” This is as up-close and personal as it gets. Even the intensity and type of thoughts radically changes between the first day and the tenth. The “kind” of thoughts generally seems to be a good measure of my progress.

One thing that became apparent in this retreat is that I have to transform from the inside out. If the deepest core of me does not vibrate with the sound of love, anything that I do at the outer level will be faded by what’s going on inside. And thus, the most essential thing that I can present the world is to continue to work on purifying at the depth of my being. The change has to come from within and radiate outwards, instead of the other way around.

To find “Truth” with a capital T, one has to let go of the “Self.” And how is that possible when a lifetime (perhaps many) of conditioning has made us who we are. The question I ask myself is this: Am I ready to let go of my personalized illusions for a greater gain? Or will I wait until the next pitfall in life to ask, what happened?

And when I do get a glance of the “Truth,” will I have enough courage to look it straight in the eye or will I let it pass me by, hoping I’ll catch the next train.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What is, is.


The Vipassana Center Gate

Walking through mountains of Maharastra is beautiful even when you’re taking the main highway. We’re stoping over in Igatpuri for an intensive meditaion retreat about 140km from Bombay. The course is full but we ran across some people who know the coordinators and somehow we’re in! This is the largest Vipassana center in the world and I really wanted to do a retreat here. It’s quite powerful to meditate with a thousand other people. After nine weeks of walking, this will be really grounding and will help set the tone for the remainder of the journey.

Each day that I’m here, I’m reminded of what a privilege it is to be able to leave everything and dedicate so much time to learn about one's inner workings. It’s a really humbling experience to be in the hands of the universe, but so far I’ve been given enough strength to deal with any challenges that come up. Doing something like this -- where you don’t know where you’ll sleep tomorrow and what you’ll eat -- definitely increases your faith for the universe to respond. In fact, you rely on it. Or I should say that it becomes obvious that “I” am not the one that controls everything. “Faith” is a word that we’re often afraid of using, especially in the West, but in this journey, it’s the closest word that I can think of for describing this feeling.

I met an interesting old man yesterday, who asked me a riddle: “What I say is not true, what I write is not true, then what is true?” After a while, he laughs and says, “What is, is." What is, IS.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Urban Jungle

Its one thing to walk 44km in one day but to get up and do it all over again the next day can be really taxing on your body. The muscles don’t really get enough rest sleeping on a hard concrete floor with only a thin shawl on the ground, especially if you keep hearing all kinds of sounds at night. Nevertheless, we walk all day through the valleys and the mountains and make our way into Nasik, a large city known for Satya Sai Baba. His ashram is in the hills of Shirdi, about 90km southeast of the city.

Having spent the week and a half in tribal villages, I’m a little excited about being in a city. I can check my email, exchange some books, and finally get a map of Maharashtra. As we get closer to the city, people seem really different. They no longer stop and smile and ask us where we’re headed. When you ask for directions, as if they’re too lazy to lift their hands or speak, they just nod their heads in the right direction. No small talk, no curiosity, and no sense of connection, unless they can sell you something. Only billboard ads for the latest clothes, cars, jewelry, matrimonials, and health insurance. Coming from a place where people don’t know if they’ll have food tomorrow, this all seems a little self-centered. Although I’ve been a part of this, there’s such a striking difference after being away for some time. All the foods I haven’t seen for a while, sit right there in front of me. Sweets, samosas, fresh juices, and restaurants are serving everything from pav bhaji to pizza. I quickly calculate what I’ve spent for the day and I’ve got about 6 rupees left in my budget. I have no choice but to observe all my food cravings. =)

It’s an absolute urban jungle, and to be here is to be a part of it.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Not in the Lonely Planet Guide


Valleys of Maharastra

It was a long 44km after crossing into Maharashtra. I was surprised to see that people look distinctively different from Gujarati’s -- different facial features, different dress, and different personalities. Most of the villagers along the way understood very little Hindi and we couldn’t really make them understand the concept of a walking pilgrimage. In spite of that, there were smiles and curious looks as we walked through the valleys and the green mountains.

Before leaving Gujarat, we were warned that there were no known places where we can stay or people to profile along our route to Nashik. A small village called Nanasi was in the middle and there was possibly a school where we can find shelter for the night. We finally reached the village around six in the evening and came to the largest village we’ve seen today. It had electricity and couple of stalls of random food items. We were starving but decided to figure out where we can spend the night before eating. The villagers told us that there was a school about a kilometer away that would let us spend the night. We walked up to the school and to our disappointment were told that we couldn’t stay there because the principal was out. After pressing further, someone told us about a Shiva Temple about 4km away that “might” let us spend the night. The thought of walking another 4km was grueling and the thought of sleeping in the fields without any running water even more discomforting, but onwards we charged with our achy muscles and tired feet.

After what seemed like a really long time, we found ourselves talking to a guy in the next village who understood some Hindi. He told us that there was a Shiva Temple about another kilometer from there but there were no rooms at the temple, and that we should’ve stayed at the large village that we just came from. What? This was a huge test of patience. There was no food in this village, no room, and no one offered us a place to stay. We were sweaty and exhausted from walking all day.

Just before sunset we reached an old Shiva Temple with a bright blue dome over it. The temple was a small room with stone sculptures inside and an old well in front of it. There was one more tiny room (8x10ft.) for the priest, other than that there was a large area in front of the temple covered by a tin roof. The priest had gone somewhere but Bharat, one of the teenage boys from the village, came in to inquire about what these outsiders with strange looking backpacks were doing in a small village like this.

We asked him if there was a place to shower and he proudly said, “Yes,” while pointing to a metal bucket and the open area next to the well. Okay, maybe we can just wash the salty sweat off of our hands and faces. But how do we get the water out of the well? And this wasn’t your typical well in the villages where you tie a rope to a bucket and lower it down. It had large pieces of rocks around it in a square shape and wobbly big rocks leading down to the water that served as steps. Nipun asks Bharat to help him and they both go down and bring back two buckets of semi-clean water. By the time we’re done cleaning up whatever we can, the priest returns and Bharat helps us explain that we need shelter for the night. The easy going Sadhu only understands some Hindi but he happily lets us sleep on the floor underneath the large tin roof, with all sides open. Thus far we’ve had heat and only heat, but this mountainous area is actually cold. I ask them if there are any blankets that we could borrow. As I stand there, practically shivering, Bharat innocently reassures me that it doesn’t really get cold at night. He still agrees to bring couple of blankets later on.

The priest had already finished his dinner but he kindly asked Bharat to get some raw materials for a simple rice and eggplant dinner. But realizing that we’d have to collect wood and start a fire before the cooking began, we passed on the several hour ordeal. Since it was already 8 o’ clock we opted for going to the only stall in town and buying some biscuits, jaggery (brown sugar), and peanuts. We just wanted to get our sore and overworked muscles to sleep. Since there was no electricity we were in “bed” by 8:30. Although my body was exhausted, I lay there wide awake with nothing between me and the concrete floor but my shawl.

According to the friendly priest, the temple has existed since the time of Rama (as in the ‘Ramayana’). Throughout the night, I was worried about the snakes – after all, it is a Shiva temple =) -- and the sounds coming from well next to us and the animals that could walk in from the nearby fields, but in the morning, I felt almost fortunate to be in a place like this. I walked into the cave-like temple and it really did look ancient with its half-broken statues and old paintings. Afterwards, the priest even made me a syrup-like, milkless tea at 5AM, which I drank under a “rudraksh” tree (whose fruits are worn around the neck for its healing qualities). As I left with a very positive feeling, I remember thinking, “This place would never be listed in the Lonely Planet Guide to India.”

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Tribal Gujarat


Getting water from the well


Outside of the Himalayas, I thought India was a relatively flat land. But all those illusions were dispelled when we had to walk uphill to get to Pindval. In Pindval, we are interviewing a Gandhian author who has written dozens of books and spent the last 25 years working for the tribals. This area has some of the most overlooked folks in Gujarat. Actually it’s 99.9% tribal, according to the literature we read. It’s amazing to see how a 40 kilometer walk can completely change a community’s style of dressing, eating and speaking.

We’re about a few days shy of crossing the border in Maharashtra, where we’ll both have to brush up on our Hindi in order to communicate. So far, Nipun’s Gujarati has kept us very connected to the villagers. It’ll be interesting to be in a place where neither of us is fluent in the local language -- Marathi. Many people also warned us that we won’t find the Gujarati hospitality in Maharashtra and we’ll have some tough days up ahead with the monsoon. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. =)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Meditation and Love

Vimala Thakar, whose thoughts are along the lines of Krishnamurti, concludes one of her books with two things that purify: silence (meditation) and love.

Like we peel the layers of an onion, true silence leads to an unraveling of the ego. And love always asks for the ego to surrender and thus the “I” melts away.

I never quite looked at it this way but it’s an interesting summary of spirituality.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Living on a Farm (Part II; Survivor Gujarat)


Kantibhai

As I walk into one of the two rooms on the farm to get something from my bag, I hear a sound. I can’t see too well because it’s almost evening and I don’t know where the light switch is. Maybe it’s a rat. There’s a loud shriek…it sounds like a big rat! I see something move. “That’s not a rat – it’s a snake coiled up between the two wooden cupboards?” I yell for Kantibhai. “Snake. I think there’s a snake in here.”

Everyone comes running. Kantibhai is as cool as a cucumber. He walks right in, as I get out of the way and try to look through the window. Unfortunately, I finally get a good look. To my horror there’s a green snake at least six feet long and two inches wide wrapped around a big rat. I move back with disgust as Kantibhai, who’s also a big animal lover, gets enough courage to say, “Let’s turn the light off since he's already half done and let him relieve the poor rat of his suffering” And without skipping a beat he goes back to his chores. Nipun, Vena, Paras, and I are equally shocked. “Is it poisonous?” I ask Kantibhai. “Who knows, but it won’t harm you.”

He goes on and tells us stories about the first year he moved there. They had at least 50 scorpions and since he doesn’t believe in killing them, he would take each one out. He was bit by only one out of the 50.

As I make a mental note to cross-out ever considering moving into a farm, we all sit around on a cot with our feet up just in case the snake decides to run out of the room. Kantibhai then casually tells us that there’s a lion on the loose and he was in the village the night before last and took two dogs from the neighboring house. We confirm the story with the lady that works there just to make sure he’s not pulling our leg. And I rememeber that another lady in town was trying to tell me that earlier but I didn't understand her Gujarati.

I realized that this is a part of life in the villages and as much as I'd like it to be different, it's a part of nature.

The conversation quickly shifted from scared to humorous. If there was ever going to be a “Survivor: Gujarat,” this would have to be it. We fill Kantibhai in on American reality shows as we try to decide if we’d rather sleep outside and risk getting attacked by a lion or inside where there’s a snake on the loose. Sometimes when it gets a little scary, the best thing you can do is laugh at it. We all got the guts to go in there and get our bedding at night with Kantibhai and Nipun leading the efforts. And luckily, everyone was in one piece in the morning. Waking up to the bright sky at four in the morning to leave, I almost forgot about the events that took place the night before.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Living on a Farm


Papaya Picking

We’ve been walking for almost two months now and just when we think we’re at the end of the rope with people to profile, we run into someone who knows a lot of interesting people. This time was no different.

Just as we were on our last contact, Anandbhai, an activist suggested several people that we should meet. Among them was Kantibhai, whose farm we’re currently staying at. He’s an enthusiastic young guy, who gave up city life to live in a small village and do organic farming. Kantibhai’s whole ideal is that we should live “in tune” with nature. He feels, that is what is best for our bodies, our minds, and our souls.

And staying here has proven that to be true. This has been a great treat for us. None of us had ever picked our own papayas or mangoes before. He has everything you can possibly want for cooking right here in his own farm. Sleeping under the stars on a cot, surrounded by the coconut, sugar canes, and big mango trees is one of the best feelings in the world. Suddenly, there are no worries.

You go to sleep when it gets dark and wake up when the sun comes up. And the first thing you find when you look up is that there's a baby calf staring you in the face wondering what you’re doing on his farm.

It’s the good life and I plan to relish every moment of it. =)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Real Freedom


Just before Sunrise

We walk through a really sketchy part of town. Not sketchy in the sense that there's a lot of poverty and we might get our stuff stolen. But more of an old tribal, hilly area where people still don't believe in wearing clothes and they walk around with bows and arrows, for killing.

As one of the villagers (who happens to be drunk) walks us through the bad part of town, he mentions that if the naga (naked) men see women, they might get other ideas. For a split second my ears perk up, “Did I hear that right?” There’s a moment of silence as everyone tries to walk together now. For a second, I feel the fear arise as my feet start walking faster and the bag no longer seems heavy. What's there to fear? Doesn't fear ultimately come from "ego," being attached to the "I." What am I trying to protect? Getting our stuff stolen, getting harassed, beaten, raped, killed? Ultimately, it’s just a physical body, it’s just stuff. Aren’t these the very attachments I’m trying to work on?

This is not who “I AM.”

I think about the dozens of ants I kill each day walking, they’re precious life too. Why does my life matter more? Then it dawns on me: it doesn’t! I’m just a tiny speck in the universe like everything else. And like everything else, I have my own attachments, family, community, and so forth. There’s nothing significantly special about me. Rationally, I know all this but something about experiencing it today brings forth different emotions that are next to impossible to put into words.

I feel a type of Freedom that I’ve never felt before. Freedom with a capital F, a Freedom that a leaf might feel in mid-flight after splitting from a tree. Suddenly, I have absolutely no fear. None. And these emotions are not coming out of denial, like those times when you’re trying to be strong. They’re coming from the purest space within me that I’m seldomly in touch with.

What’s even harder to explain is the oneness I feel with all of nature. I can feel that there is something much bigger looking after me almost like a mother – protecting and guiding me. I feel like I’ve been this arrogant child, not giving it much credence, but yet it’s been there every step of the way. I KNOW that nothing will happen today. Even if it does, it doesn’t matter. These are all my own brothers and sisters. We all lose our way sometimes. But in this moment, I feel completely enveloped in love. My heart expands further than it ever has to welcome that love. I try to hold onto that feeling for as long as I can and keep walking with a childlike glee. The universe is mine and I, its favorite daughter. The only thing left to do is to love. Everything else fades in comparison.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

No other way. No other time.

Mind is starting to gnaw in on me. Now that physically I’m used to walking and can deal with the physical discomforts, there’s a lot of other stuff coming up. It’s uncomfortable, it’s painful, and all the negativities that usually lay dormant or go unnoticed are showing their heads. There are many things to work on, if only I can remain aware enough each moment to realize that they’ve surfaced. The world is both good and bad depending on my own eyes. It absolutely has nothing at all to do with anything else, as much as I think it does. That much is clear. I have to take on whatever comes my way, sooner or later, willingly or unwillingly. I might as well take it head on. No other way. No other time.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Silence


Chasing Butterflies

The mind is becoming more and more silent. Talking is an interesting activity. There’s so much more ego associated with it then I’d like to admit. The mind is constantly trying to beautify its own image. It’s constantly trying to make sure that others are thinking highly of it. And extremely hurt when someone says anything to harm that image of ourselves. Whether we really care for a person’s opinion or not, anything hurtful that anyone says always stands out more than anything neutral or good. Such fragileness. Even the most realized of people aren’t able to fully part from it. Trying to work at the ego bit by bit, but something tells me it’s going to be a life-long job. Silence is turning out to be an amazing tool.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Movin' On


Spinning Cotton

Gandhi once said that, “haste is a form of violence.” As subtle emotions are becoming more and more apparent, I think that perhaps even irritation is a form of violence. It ultimately affects the surroundings by carrying negativity to those around us…thus bringing in subtle form of violence. The more irritated I am about something, the greater the chances of “reaction” instead of “action” out of my own will.

It’s the last day of Gandhi Katha and we leave for the road again at 5AM tomorrow. Although it’s been amazing staying here, I’m looking forward to getting into the groove of walking again. There’s something really beautiful about walking even though there are a lot more challenges and unknown. I’m feeling ready to go.