The Kapha Element

I could be in cozy Telluride right now.  I could be teaching lots of hot yoga to combat the cold outside, learning to skate ski on groomed trails through a silent sanctuary of snow-covered pines.  Having hot chocolate with friends, talking on the phone to my mom, playing with dogs.  I miss these things a lot.

I’m not living my comfortable, contented life because, as it turns out, I was not so contented.  I wanted to move from comfort into something more.  I asked to be blown wide open, to be changed.  Nothing less than transformed.

Why do I constantly ask for these things?

I would like to be cool.  An acquaintance from Telluride is spending the winter in Cambodia, stand-up paddle boarding to raise awareness about water pollution or something like that.  That is so cool.

Instead, I am wandering through the Far East watching my thoughts.  So much less cool.

Also, if I were stand-up paddle boarding for clean water, I would actually want the aforementioned cleaning of water to occur.

Inner change and transformation?  Sometimes, I want to wave my arms up at the universe, shoot off a few flares to get its attention, and shout, NEVER MIND!  I take it back.  Then I could slink quietly back to the States, start teaching yoga and walking dogs, and pretend to everyone I’d accomplished what I set out to do.

I’ve never been much good at pretending.

When I wrote yesterday’s blog about body image and beauty, and thought I could get away with leaning on the wise and rebellious words of Eve Ensler to resolve the issue, I was mistaken.

The issue of body image for me goes so deep.  No one else’s words or experience can transform my beliefs about myself.

Other people’s words go far to challenge you, and move you into the space in which you can confront those demons, though.  Which is why I am writing this now – in the hopes that a word or phrase will take you somewhere inside yourself, to exorcise some false beliefs that pervade your every day life.

I reached a slightly chubby stage somewhere during elementary school.  My father would tell me I didn’t need butter on my bread at the dinner, and punish me for eating cookies.  He made remarks about women based on how they looked, daily.  For years, this was the main message I got – Your worth is based on how you look.  To him, I knew I didn’t look good.  So I couldn’t be worth much.

The more I knew I shouldn’t eat, the more I wanted to eat.  In early high school, some boys at the ultra-fancy private school I attended for half a year in California, called me Miss Piggy. I knew I wasn’t worth much to them.

That summer, I realized something that changed my high school life.  I didn’t have to eat.  The hollowness I felt from denying my body food made me feel superior to all the people who…ATE.

The attention I got when I shed all those childhood pounds enforced the whole idea – that when I am thin, I am good, loved, admired, protected.  Even my father took notice.  As he sat down with me to discuss his concerns about how thin I was getting, I could see he was a little proud.  Denial of hunger = strength.  I was his daughter at last.

After college, I fell in love.  I thought if I could look perfect, I would always keep him.  (He represented security).  I ran 5 miles every morning before work, 10 miles at lunch every day from my advertising agency to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  After work, I would swim for hours or do spinning classes.  I ate no carbs.  I looked perfect.  I was miserable.  I was afraid to stop.

After running a half marathon up King’s Mountain in Woodside, California, I had trouble walking.  I went to the doctor, and he cut the IT band away from each patella.  (I had already broken two toes and torn a ligament in my shoulder, just from exercising).

After recovery, I could no longer run long distances.  I broke up with my boyfriend and decided to stop dieting.  Since then, I’ve struggled with how to view food, exercise and my body.

I used to ask my friend Emily about her perspective.  She has gone through eating disorder counseling and is now becoming a counselor herself.  She says, “I got to the point where I stopped looking in mirrors and exercising.  I had to say ‘I would rather be fat than crazy like this.’  I had to really be ok with gaining weight.”

I stopped asking Emily after that.

Today, Jancy, Dr. Subhash’s wife, massaged me with sacks of special herbs to reduce the Vata (air) element in my body.  She mentioned that this might bring the Kapha (earth and water) element back into balance as well.  As she said this, she pointed to my hips.  The Kapha element has to do with fat.

Normally, a woman (well, anyone) pointing at my naked hips and mentioning fat would send me into a total mental and emotional tailspin.

Instead, I find myself thinking about Elizabeth’s hospital visit, my new business, friends and family at home, blogging, yoga.  I am not thinking (as much) about my body.  Other things…seem…are…more important.

Today, I think it’s happened.  I am willing to let go of control over how I look.

That.  Is.  Transformation, People!

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Stop Fixing It. It Was Never Broken.

Beauty.

The women of India are striking, the luster of their dark eyes, the smooth polish of their skin.  The way they carry themselves – with strength, steadiness, implying inner resources (which it seems evident they use, considering their outer resources are often few).

I may be generalizing, but so do they.  Every woman I talk to (whether they are at my guesthouse or asking me to pose for a photo with them on the street) tells me how beautiful I am.  The first time, I was flattered.  As it continued, I realized, it’s because I am white.

The business of super-toxic, endocrine-disrupting Michael-Jackson-style skin whitening cream here is booming.

They can’t see their unique beauty.

Once a palace guard in the glowing city of Jaisalmer told me he would gun George Bush down if he could find him.  Aside from that exception, Indian people are thrilled by the fact that I am American.  Many have not heard of Germany, France or New Zealand, but they know America.  Television provides dreams to the impoverished, and an American seems like a possible ticket out of their nightmare.

Media is infecting the minds of more than American women, dreaming of emaciation and unattainable perfection.  It’s angering to see American’s adolescent girls striving for sexiness over everything else, but it’s almost worse to watch people who have so little wasting their money and time trying to be light-skinned and Western.

It’s not surprising to me that we equate goodness with beauty.  I do it all the time.  (Here’s a study if you doubt.)

What has struck me on this trip, is how loosely beauty is defined.  I inherited light skin from the Hungarian side of my family, and I spend lots of time outside making sure I am always brown.  Here, my natural pale state is beautiful.  (Blows my mind, actually.)

Also (and this is a big one), being curvy is the standard of perfection here.  Hollywood hasn’t yet infiltrated that national beauty standard.

Not skeletons, but round.  Are you kidding me?  This is absolutely paradigm-shifting.

I must bow here to the hero of women’s bodies everywhere – Eve Ensler, the guru of channeling our collective body-hating thoughts into a river of eventual self-love.  She chooses the stomach as the example of her own body self-hate in The Good Body.

When a group of ethnically diverse, economicallydisadvantaged women in the United States wasrecently asked about the one thing they would change in their lives if they could, the majority of these women said they would lose weight.  Maybe I identify with these women because I have bought into the idea that if my stomach were flat, then I would be good, and I would be safe. I would be protected.  I would be accepted, admired, important, loved.

Here’s the week’s new mantra, also from Sainted Eve:

I am stepping off the capitalist treadmill. I am going to take a deep breath and find a way to survive not being flat or perfect.  I am inviting you to join me, to stop trying to be anything, anyone other than who you are.  I was moved by women in Africa who lived close to the earth and didn’t understand what it meant to not love their body.  I was lifted by older women in India who celebrated their roundness.  I was inspired by Marion Woodman, a great Jungian analyst, who gave me confidence to trust what I know.  She has said that “instead of transcending ourselves, we must move into ourselves.”   Tell the image makers and magazine sellers and the plastic surgeons that you are not afraid.  That what you fear the most is the death of imagination and originality and metaphor and passion.

Then be bold and LOVE YOUR BODY. STOP FIXING IT.

IT WAS NEVER BROKEN.

Allow Change to Happen

Allow change to happen. 

I sit at a desk and gaze through the window screen at myna birds and coconut palms.

I have seen poverty before.  In high school, my parents and school sent me on all kinds of mission trips – to build houses in Tijuana slums, to dig pits in a deaf village in Jamaica.

It’s what you allow to enter in.  (Let it enter in.)  Sometimes, you are affected without trying – you see a small horse attempting to walk with a broken leg, or a dead dog on the side of the road.  When your friends and family are affected by loss, you can’t help but feel it.

But the world at large is infected with so much sorrow you have to keep it away or you will go crazy.  You have to focus on joy, and friendship and healing.

Yesterday, Elizabeth, the cook at my beautiful Ayurvedic retreat center, invites me to her house, about ten minutes away by rickshaw.  At 1:30 PM, after she cleans up the remains of our lunch, I hear her voice from the road outside my cottage.

“Rebecca!” she calls, louder than the other women chattering in a group around her.  “Four o’clock; my house; today.  OK?”

“OK!” I yell back.

Elizabeth is a fantastic cook.  She won’t eat anything she prepares for us; none of the Indian staff will eat our food.  It’s too bland, they say.  They want spice and crazy flavor.

But, after weeks of eating regular Indian fare (spicy and FRIED), Elizabeth’s food is nourishing: cumin and cinnamon flavored vegetable dishes, perfect rice and always fruit – papaya sprinkled with lime juice and local bananas.  Sometimes there are flat, hot chapatis or little dishes of coconut pudding dotted with roasted cashews.

She brings us the experience of abundance, and perfect order.  The kitchen is always spotless.  Our table is perfect, every day.  She stands back, watching us eat.  Yesterday, I walk in to breakfast and she sings a song about me – something about “sweet” and waggling her finger back and forth, laughing with the other ladies, “no, no!”

I ask, “Elizabeth, will you come back to America with me, in my suitcase?”

“Yes, madam,” she says.  Always yes.

At 3:45, Irin arrives in the rickshaw.  He is always early, always happy to wait.  His hair is perfectly oiled.  His dress shirt is, as usual, rolled up to his elbows, neat and ironed, tucked in to his white dhoti, a scarf wrapped around his thighs that comes to his knees.

I sit back on the rickshaw’s shiny green cushion and notice (now it’s a habit) the statue on his little dashboard. It’s Christ on the cross.

In Northern India, the rickshaws and taxis were adorned with miniature Hindu Krishnas and Ganeshas.  Here, in Southern India, Jesus grimaces, bleeding from his crown of thorns, or Mary smiles calmly.  Being a Christian is a way to escape the Hindu caste system, although the church exacts its own dues, in the form of tithes and strict adherence to its rules, according to Dr. Subhash.

Irin accelerates through the narrow streets, honking loudly at each (and there are many) blind turn.  In India, it’s as if they assume all drivers are meditating with their eyes closed.  They use the horn to signal to everyone – drivers, dogs, camels, pedestrians, that they are coming.

Sometimes, driving in India, I’ve found it’s advisable to keep your eyes on the dashboard Christ rather than what’s happening on the road.  You feel better.

I’ve become accustomed to the view from the rickshaw – rancid drains, sleeping stray dogs, adorable children with their mothers in bright saris.  Shops with bright tacky signs selling food, dirt everywhere, and men outnumbering women 30:1.  My Rajastan taxi driver Hanuman says this is because “Men are allowed to go here and there.  But women must stay at home, and the husband can tell her if she go here and there.  Usually, not.”  The smell of exhaust, the feel of blackened soot across the skin of my face.

We pull up to a road of large houses.  So many large houses in Southern India, unlike the tiny cement squares, huts made from clay with thatched roofs and makeshift shacks in the north!  They are surrounded by garbage and small flowering trees.  They have high roofs and are painted bright pink, lime green and purple.

Elizabeth is waiting, dressed in a fresh purple sari.  We frighten a few stray kittens as we walk down the dirt pathway to her front yard.  It is a typical stretch of flat brown dirt, soft and sandy in texture.  We walk past a dilapidated awning that her son uses as a carpentry workshop, up some steps onto a small porch.  We remove our shoes, and three small girls, like those Russian stacking dolls (what are they called?), appear.

The girls are so clean.  The skirts of their dresses stand out like they’ve been starched.  They all have names that sound like Mini.  They smile, in a row, gold bracelets sparkling on all six wrists.

It strikes me that I’ve never left the taxi before.  In India, I have gone from plane to taxi or rickshaw to site to hotel.  I’ve been such a tourist.  I point and smile to the skeleton of a tree, decorated for Christmas with streamers and foil stars; the clay figures of the Nativity placed outside the window on a bed of fake grass.

We go inside.  The floor is marble.  It is the only finished part of the house.  The walls are tall, so it is cool.  The walls are unfinished cement, like a cave.  Like a ruin.  Or in this case, a partially-finished building, inhabited by necessity before completion.  Over the mantle is every kind of replica of Jesus.

Elizabeth takes me farther within.  “My room,” she says.  There is a tiny cot with a blanket.  There is a table with a huge photograph of a handsome man, right next to a smaller painting of Mary.  This time she has huge streams of blood running from her eyes.

“My husband.”  Elizabeth points at the man.  “He die.  Bladder cancer.  Thirteen years.”

“How old are you, Elizabeth?”  There are no lines on her face.  It is beautiful, like the skin of a Buckeye.  Her hair is slightly graying at the temples, and I know she has a daughter older than me.

“53,” she says.  She pulls me away from her room, and I see the girls’ room and her son’s room with his wife, also the kitchen.  It is like a cave, a ruin, partially complete.  It is such a contrast from the perfect walls, perfect decor of the guesthouse where I am used to seeing her.

She watches my gaze.  “We finish house,” she says.  “First we pay bank 30,000RP ($561 US).  Then, we paint.”

I ask her what colors she is planning, like I would to any friend at home.  “Blue.  White,” she says.

“Everywhere?” I ask.

Everywhere.  Mary’s colors.

“Sit,” she says, and brings a chair to the kitchen table.  She places a full glass of mango juice in front of me, a huge platter of pistachio cookies and another of a spicy nut mix.  I ask her to sit with me, but she stands, smiling.  The three girls all stand as well.  They smile.  I offer them cookies; they each take one.

I am smiling too much.  I am saying silly things.  I want to put them at ease.  I want to find ease within.

The girls bring family photos.  I point and ask questions and they smile and answer when they understand.  I don’t want the snacks, because I am on an Ayurvedic cleanse, but I eat something from each dish.  I drink all the mango juice even though it has added refined sugar.  I feel terrible thinking about these things.

In my regular life, I spend so much time thinking about these things.

Elizabeth has to leave soon.  She is going to the hospital.  She has already been once this week – a cough, and a pain in her chest.  She shows me the medicine they gave her; it isn’t working.

I wonder if her employer, my Ayurvedic doctor, can treat her.  She has worked for him for 13 years.  She shakes her head (of course not).  She is not asking for sympathy, but the average Indian citizen doesn’t have the money for Ayurvedic treatments.  Even though I am paying less than $15 US per day – the hospital is free.  You get what you pay for, I’ve been told.

Elizabeth’s sister also worked for the guesthouse for many years.  Last Christmas, she was leaving work in a rickshaw.  A motorcycle ran into her, and she was taken to the hospital.  “She use…” Elizabeth pushes her hands in a forward motion.  A walker.

I ride back to the guesthouse.  Irin has been waiting.

There are things you can say.  That people become used to anything, that they are even happier without a lot of stressful possessions.  Healthcare and relative safety.  That you (one person) can’t really make a difference.  That having a house (even a partially-built one) puts an Indian family so far ahead of most.

Poverty is everywhere.

Sometimes we let it touch us.  Only rarely can we allow it in.

I want to pay for Elizabeth to see Doctor Subhash.  I want to send her money to pay off her house, once I begin to earn again.  I want to give her 600RP ($12 US) when I leave, so that her granddaughters can pay for a month of their schooling.

I want to buy my way out of the guilt that I feel for having so much, and not always valuing it.

Allow it.  Allow your love for this woman across the world from your mother, who is your mother’s age, to flow.  Allow it to flow like those bright red streams from Mary’s eyes.

One voice is a bit dramatic.

The other voice says, Maybe she brings guests here each month, and tells them the same stories.  Maybe this is her way of extracting money from rich American tourists.  Everyone seems to have one.

I have to decide to open my heart, or to allow doubts and distance to build another wall between my privilege and anothers’ lack

The Lessons of Ayurveda

The way we talk to ourselves, the way I talk to myself in particular, has been on my mind a lot lately.  EVERYTHING has been on my mind a lot lately, since I’ve been sitting still and letting the healing treatments of this Ayurvedic clinic Ayur Dara take their course.

I’ve been watching my thoughts, in between watching the menagerie of goats, chickens, stray dogs, crows and chipmunks in the jungle outside my cottage window (and the geckos and mosquitoes crawling inside on my window).

My thoughts tend to cycle.  First, I wonder why I think I deserve to be still for two weeks, just focusing on my health.  Other people work harder, my thoughts say.  The staff here can’t afford these treatments.  I’m not actually sick.

My thoughts want to convey the ideas that I am spoiled and that I should be accomplishing something.  Write, my thoughts hiss, as I lie in the hammock, staring at the lagoon.  Meditate, they practically scream as I take a post-lunch nap.

I should be chanting the Maja Mritynjaya mantra 108 times with the rudraksha-bead mala necklace I received after the holy Ganga Aarti Ceremony in Haridwar.  I should work on my novel.  I should plan the next leg of my travels.

I tell Dr. Subhash about these thoughts when we meet this morning, almost like I am confessing.  I am supposed to be more peaceful.  I am supposed to want to meditate.  I have all these tools from yoga training now, to combat a restless mind.

“It is a Vata imbalance,” Dr. Subhash tells me.  He doesn’t look condemning.  He looks like a doctor diagnosing a treatable ailment.  I am filled with hope.

I should take time here to explain the most basic fundamental structure of Ayurvedic Medicine.  I stole this explanation from another travel blog because I’m excited to get to my mid-afternoon nap:

If yoga is the path to develop the mind and spirit, Ayurveda is the way to keep the body healthy so that each person could focus their energy on their higher purpose in life (dharma). Ayurveda offers a way for each person to balance their body, mind and spirit and tune it to the rhythms of the natural world.

There are several tools or lenses that Ayurveda uses to both diagnose and treat each person. According to Ayurveda, our bodies, just like the earth, are composed of five basic elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. When they say that, however, they do not mean these words in the limited sort of logs in a blazing pile, water in a riverbed way, but instead with a more expansive meaning. When they speak of air, they mean more the quality of air, such as movement, drying and separating things. When they speak of fire, they mean heat, metabolic processes, transformation. And when they speak of water, they mean lubrication and mediums.

Based on these five elements, the sages outlined the above three processes of the human body: movement, transformation and lubrication/medium. They called these processes “doshas” and named them: Vata (movement), Pitta (transformation) and Kapha (lubrication). The primary reason for this organization, beyond its veracity, was its ease in translating into diagnosis and treatment. For example, its very easy to see when pitta (the fire of transformation) is out of balance. Reddened skin, hyperacidity, heartburn, ulcers, skin rashes, constant overheating, very active and emotional mind are all signs of this condition. It is also very simple to treat: cool the body down both on the inside and the outside. I am walking a tricky balance here by presenting the simplicity of this medicinal art, as this approach is backed up by thousands of tomes on different herbs, procedures and treatments, so don’t let this simple overlay fool you. The art of balancing the human body’s processes is an incredibly specific undertaking that requires a constant dialogue between doctor and client, dedicated aherence to medical regimens and an expansive knowledge of all things relevant (and the drinking of brutally horrible tasting medicines).
Anyway, now that most of the work has been done by this talented other-blog-writer, I shall continue my little story.  Dr. Subhash explains my recycling, anxious, condemning thoughts are due partially to a physical imbalance.  Also, my chronic, legendary tiredness that everyone, from boyfriends to roommates, comment upon.  The tiredness is a Kapha imbalance.  Both the tiredness and the recycling thoughts are connected to my (always blocked) sinuses.  So I spend hours a day having toxin-removing sesame oil rubbed on my body, having drops administered in my nose, inhaling burning turmeric and drinking brutally horrible tasting medicines.
In case you were wondering how I am spending my times these days.
But even more than experiencing the physical treatments of Ayurveda, I am experiencing a shift internally.  A few more kind words, here and there, pop up in my thoughts.  “Relax.  Enjoy,” they have lately been known to whisper.  There is a reason Ayurveda and Yoga go hand in hand.  This lesson I’ve been learning here – to allow myself time to receive and not strive, is the whole point of my winter journey, in essence.
What do you need to allow in your life?  It can feel foreign, strange, lazy, crazy, at first.  But take the first step forward and see how immediately (almost) the blessings arrive!

don’t be afraid, don’t resist, don’t delay. be what you are.

I would like to talk about being a woman in India.  I would also like to point out that I recognize I have been a woman in India for two weeks, and my mother and grandmothers have never been women in India.  Having just had a series of 8 poems about the Ute people accepted to an online journal, I feel especially sensitive to the need to explain that I am very clear where I come from, and who I am.  I cannot begin to know what it is like to have been born an Indian woman, born to other Indian women, just like I cannot know what it is to be a Ute living on a reservation in Colorado or Utah.

OK; I feel better.  But, like a good Presbyterian Church-raised girl, I feel bad about feeling good.  I feel bad because I am a tourist looking in on a life that I’m relieved I can escape in a few weeks.  I feel bad that I don’t appreciate the wonderful opportunities in my regular life.  Here are some:

  • I breathe clean air.  In India, the air feels like poison.  It smells like incense, burning rubber, black smoke and rot.  I cough and hack my way through this country.
  • I do yoga.  In India, the land I thought was full of wandering holy men and reverent contortionists, yoga is only for the very rich.  Almost every Indian I have met works to survive, with little time for the study and practice of their country’s ancient teachings.
  • I drink clear water.  I work for an environmental film that comprehensively explains the evils of single-use plastics.  But I would rather deny my principles and drink bottled water than try water-purification tablets in local water filled with brown sludge-like particles, as my travel-acquaintance Emily did.  Either option is certainly not ideal.
  • I have opportunities.  As an American woman, I can work my way up the corporate ladder.  I can be an artist or a teacher or throw together an assortment of jobs that inspire me.  I don’t have to stay at home and obey my parents and then a husband.  (I am also not trapped by the caste I was born into.)
  • I can wear tank tops.  Enough said – it is hot sometimes and a salwar kameez is not cool.
  • I can be single.  Even though everyone I know from college in the South is married, I still don’t feel stigmatized for being single in the way an Indian woman in her 30’s would.  I thought I could be truthful in India.  I have learned I cannot, several times now, with various Indian men who assumed all kinds of awful things about me.  I am married, I tell everyone, even the Swiss couple staying at my guesthouse.

On this day in particular, with thousands of brave women marching through the streets of Cairo, I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate being a free woman!  And using another powerful mantra originated by my friend Mandie, I say to you – use your freedoms.  don’t be afraid, don’t resist, don’t delay. be what you are.

Making (or Buying) Mountains

Just as I experience acute Shania Twain land envy, Rod Stryker (Founder of ParaYoga in Aspen, Colorado) publishes an article – Spiritual vs. Material Fulfillment.

So this is acutally the Rob Roy Glacier Track, but it gives an idea of the beauty of Shania-land.

Shania Twain’s land covers the area between Queenstown and Lake Wanaka, an awe-inspiring, breathtaking, green 42,000 acre tract of mountains, full of native birdlife and streams rushing into waterfalls which we drove past on our way to hike up to the incredible Rob Roy Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand.  (I think I might be drooling-let me just check.)  If I lust, this is what I lust after.  A woman made famous by catchy bad grammar (That don’t impress me much!) owns this glorious, peaceful place.

So I sit in the passenger seat of my friend Renee’s Jim Beam (If it ain’t Beam, It ain’t Bourbon) truck (She is a sales rep for JB and this, the Beam-er, is our official adventure sponsor, of sorts) and stare at Shania’s mountains.  I get cranky.  Why should Shania get mountains?  I don’t even have a vacant lot near a mountain, or part of a lot.  Or an apartment, any more.  To top it all off, I usually use good grammar.  Don’t I deserve mountains?  I can properly spell the word mountains and use it correctly in a sentence.

While I am not proud of this inner dialogue, I think it is similar to the way we all think sometimes.  The Oxford American Dictionary defines fulfillment as “the achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted,” and “satisfaction or happiness as a result of fulfilling or developing one’s abilities or character.”  Rod Stryker points out that both of these definitions are achievement-oriented, implying that fulfillment lies outside of oneself, within what one can attain or accomplish.

More Mountains (from Routeburn Track) because, let's face it, do you ever get tired of looking at Mountains?

My brain equates fulfillment with owning mountains.  I was so glad to come across this quote by Mark Twain, so that I could make sense of this equation.

Any so-called material thing that you want is merely a symbol: you want it not for itself, but because it will content your spirit for the moment.Mark Twain

My spirit does want contentment.  Apparently I think if I owned a mountain (or many), I could rest, deeply and fully.  Most likely I would do yoga on top of and walk across my mountains continuously, having reached Samadhi at last.

Throwing in a Waterfall, just for good measure

It’s funny.  Ten days ago, at the end of yoga teacher training, I thought a bath and a good night’s sleep would be pure bliss.  That’s all I wanted.  I got so much more than that – a beautiful place to stay with good friends, gorgeous hikes all along the South Island of New Zealand, amazing food and wine, and lots of down time with a book (or Facebook).  It’s been ten days of pure sunshine-y heaven, especially considering my hometown of Telluride has been about 5 degrees Fahrenheit lately.

The more comfortable I’ve gotten, the more I seem to want.  My desires have taken about a week to escalate from walking along a mountain track to owning the whole countryside.

As a people, we are never satisfied.  I guess if one were to take Mark Twain’s words to heart, we would re-phrase it.  As a people, we are never peaceful.

Thankfully, as Rod Stryker points out, there is another type of fulfillment.

This other type of fulfillment is not dependent on attainment or on any thing. It is based on a recognition, a shift in perception. You could even say it is a revelation. The second kind of fulfillment is not dependent on circumstances being just right, nor is it derived from anything in the outside world. It comes from you. It is you.

“It is not inaccessible nor is it in distant places: it is what in oneself appears to be the experience of bliss, and is therefore realized in oneself.”  – Yoga Vasistha

This kind of fulfillment is usually hidden, masked by the world of things — the world that most of us normally see and with which we engage.  This other fulfillment is constantly and permanently available, provided you know how to access silence.

So, would I rather own Shania’s mountains or be able to sit still, fully content, without owning a tract of land or having a home?  Thankfully, Rod goes on to point out that we often don’t have to make the choice.  Material and Spiritual fulfillment can go hand in hand.  But still, I know which I would choose.  (If I had to….)

Want more wise words on peace and acquisition?  Here.

Yogini in a Material World (or CS Lewis usually says it better…)

The phrase “material world” takes on new meaning now that I’ve entered back into “normal” life.  I used to think the term referred to consumption and acquisition of possessions.  Now, it means something entirely larger.  For 30 days, I was immersed in the non-physical world for much of the time, my mind out in space (sometimes literally).  Now, I’ve hit back down onto solid ground with a thump.

Shanti placing a "bindi" on my forehead, symbolizing respect for inner guru (or divine teacher), saying "om guru dev", a chant inspiring devotion to god.

“What is reality?” Shanti likes to ask.  We blink at him, wondering what we are supposed to say.

He sometimes smiles, enjoying our confusion for a moment, then expounds upon quantum physics, Patanjali Sutras – style observations.  Namely:

  1. Everything is energy.
  2. Everything we see is tinted by our own perception.  So nothing we perceive around us is purely what it seems to be.
  3. Our thoughts run on a kind of spool, recycling over and over.  We identify with these thoughts, but if we take the time, we begin to notice that we are much more than the spinning, wayward wanderings of our mind.

At Ashram Yoga, we were so focused.  We focused on our breathing, on the sound of our breath, on slight sensations within the body, on mantra, on the colors and clouds behind the eyes when they were closed and on teachings about peace and healing.  Nothing physical held much value (except, of course, for Laszlo…and each other.)

Now in Queenstown (or almost anywhere else for that matter) the opposite holds true.  What we see around us and the chatter of our thoughts make up the substance of our lives.

Pub on the Wharf Commandment: "Thou shalt not pull during the game. 'Tis distasteful and means ye is not paying attention to the rugby."

Being in a sense, a lover of extremes, I proceed from the stillness of ashram life straight into a night at a boozy pub to watch boxing and drink beer with the Kiwis.  A girl vomits behind our table on the way to the loo.  The fighters throw hard punches as we cheer and toast, and super skanky ring girls in leather hot pants attached to handcuffs parade signs around.  A Christchurch local girl tells us that earlier Orlando Bloom mistook her co-worker for Kate Moss, and we order more rounds of drinks.

It’s a fun night.  No judgment – but boozing it up on the town is a distraction.  It’s usually a part of life, here and there, but the true goal is not to allow for distraction.

The goal is to move from the unreal, to the real, like it says in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

Asatoma Sat Gamaya
Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityorma Anritam Gamaya  

Lead me from the unreal to the Real
Lead me from the darkness to the Light
Lead me from the temporary to the Eternal 

The question is how to maintain a balance, like it says in the Bible in Romans 12:2 – and be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for your proving what is the will of God — the good, and acceptable, and perfect.

I never understood that verse growing up in the Presbyterian church.  It sounded so weird, and judge-y.  Now I understand that the renewing of my mind is concentration (dharana) and meditation.

I need to be quiet so I can really hear.  (Another childhood Bible verse – Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.)

CS Lewis says things better.  Here’s his translation of these thoughts, from Til We Have Faces:

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words.
I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
Here’s what CS Lewis wrote in a letter to explain the quote :
The idea was that a human being must become real before it can expect to receive any message from the superhuman; that is, it must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask, veil, or persona.