Always Broken

I saw a palm reader in India. It seems almost like an unnecessary statement. When in India, not seeing a palm reader is like somehow avoiding rice, or temples, or Shiva priests that try to grab your ass.  (Oh…what?)  Back to the point: palm readers are nearly as profuse (but not nearly as cute) as holy cows in India.

It was like – blah, blah, blah – as Guru Shruti Prakash (Seventy Rupees for Five Minutes) explains the lines on my hand: more opportunities for travel; I investigate thoroughly whatever catches my attention; the first part of my life has been harder than the rest of it will be.  Fine; whatever.  Lots of stuff about Mars, Jupiter and Neptune.  I should wear moonstone and pearls.  (Ummm, no…the Ayurvedic doctor told me white colors would make me fat…)

I tell him I would like to discontinue the palm reading when he begins listing auspicious numbers.  I’m not really a numbers person, and I never know the date or time anyway.

He asks if I would like some chakra balancing.

Confession: I am a sucker for chakra balancing.

For some very awkward, long minutes, I gaze into the frizzle-haired face of the old Goan palm reader.  More specifically, I gaze into his eyes.  Have you ever tried to gaze into someone’s eyes for a long time?  I have, in yoga classes, and it is uncomfortable.  Try this with an old Indian man who is muttering Om and whose pupils dart wildly back and forth, while somewhere in the back of your mind, there is the question of whether he is planning something nefarious and inappropriate.

Anyway, somehow I sit through it, pressing my palms hard into the carpeted ground while I sit crosslegged on the floor.

After a while, he stops muttering Om, and says, “think of something happy.”  I keep awkwardly gazing deep into his eyes and bring up the feeling of running on the hill trails behind my parent’s house along a stream in the springtime while my dog darts through rows of wild daffodils.

The palm reader stops me.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were depressed?”

“Am I?” I ask him stupidly.

“This is not your true nature,” he says.  “Your true nature is light and joyful.”

“Umm, ok,” I say.  I seem to have lost powers of articulation.

“I can heal you, but we need more time.  Come back to see me.”

“No,” I say, adding some excuses about having only a few days left in India.  I don’t trust this guy and I (did I mention) HATE staring into people’s eyes.

So he blesses a ring woven from three metals and some wooden beads, pouring sacred water over them, cupping the items in his palm and chanting before handing them over.  “These will help you,” he says.  “No charge.”

I stumble out from his dark room into the sunlight as my friend Anna goes in to take her turn with him.  Our other friend, Rui, asks “How was it?”

“I don’t know,” I say, dazzling her by my insightfulness.

“Am I depressed?” I think, as I sit with Rui, watching a boy shimmy up a coconut palm and slice big bunches of coconuts off with a machete.  “I get wound up and anxious.  When I see a child kicking a cow, or a street dog with a bloody back, and all manner of unfair things in the world, I get deeply, seemingly irretrievably sad.”

So I say – “Dear Universe, or Shiva, or God, If I am depressed, I trust you to pull me out of the deep well of sadness.  I don’t need a frizzle-haired old palm reader, or magic beads.”  (Although it is never not fun to be given jewelry.)

So then I travel on to Thailand, where I am struck ill with the most massive flu possibly ever experienced, coughing from deep in my lungs where the yogis say grief resides.

I move on to Cambodia, a country of even more color and contradiction than India, and am blown away by deeply spiritual experiences of Shiva and Kali’s fiery inner incinerator as I chant mantra at sunset in the yoga hut of the retreat center.

Things are moving through, and I hope, out.  Which is our natural state – moving, breaking, repairing.  The gods of Creation, Preservation and Destruction are always in action, moving within us as we move within them.

The goddess Akhilanda, The Always Broken Goddess of Hindu mythology, teaches that we are never stronger than when we are broken.  When we believe we are whole, we are separate and limited.  When we are broken, we are infinite.

There are infinite paths to union (yoga) with the Divine.  There is one way to unite with strength – to break and re-form and be created again.

So, in the 30 days before I end this 6 month journey, I’ve asked for the expansiveness to contain all this breaking and re-forming without trying to escape.  I’ve asked for the power to receive, and sit still, and…repel this word with every fiber of my being, but yes, to submit to being broken, and sustained, and re-formed by forces outside myself, forces I can’t control or even name.

This is the essence of being truly alive – to sit still and be acted upon, rather than succumbing to the enticing idea that I am the actor, isolated, separate from the whole seething, moving, messy universe of broken pieces shifting into a beautiful whole.

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Train stations are like the mind (and other meaningful insights)

It can feel like pressure to write blog posts full of insights about life.  Because sometimes you are just trying to figure out how to get away from the guy in the Bangkok train station who has exposed himself to you when the Thai National Anthem has begun to play and you are expected to stand in one place and look reverent.

Kind of like I expect these monks to have some ideas about how to live...And sometimes people expect you, as a yoga and meditation teacher, to have figured something out about life that they don’t know.  When really all you’ve learned is how many more questions you have.

Joel Altman, the fascinating and kind man behind Hariharalaya Retreat Center, where I now teach yoga and meditation, says things like, “At a certain point, there are no questions.”  He will then expand upon quantum-physics-like descriptions of matter and energy.  These descriptions are probably correct, except that I have not crossed over to the place in which questions dissolve into the limitless space of right now.

I probably should sit more, and stare into the face of my obsessions and fear.  Every time I do that, the worries and spiraling thought patterns retreat a bit faster, and there seems to be a space that holds…less.  Which might be akin to peace.

Me, mext to people who have been on Vipassana Retreat...Many of the participants in my Thai Yoga Massage course in the Lahu Village have been on Vipassana retreat.  In Vipassana retreat, you sit for ten days and watch your thoughts.  You eat twice a day, but you can’t do yoga, or read or write a blog.  You are stuck with yourself and your recycling thoughts and all your fear and neurosis.  That, or you could sing country songs to entertain yourself and eventually go mad that way.

Everyone had a period over the course of ten days where they thought they were losing their minds.  They cried or lost it some other way like packing their bags every day or having weird hallucinations.

Monkeys, in a Chiang Mai temple, doing the opposite of Vipassana (except the not speaking part is correct)I feel like this trip, in a way, has been one long Vipassana session of examining the way I view life, others and myself, while having crazy freak-outs, packing my bags constantly AND experiencing a few minor visions as well.  (I could just be making this analogy because I DON’T want to sit for 10 days and I think I should.)

But losing our minds is sort of the point, as far as I can tell.  Our thoughts and expectations are what cause us to suffer, according to Buddhist philosophy.  Coming to a place beyond thoughts and expectation, to stillness, is the yogic goal.

There’s that saying, the only way out is through, that I’ve found true over and over again.  So you have to wrestle through all the pratyaya, content of mind, to that quiet place on the other side.  (Kind of like wrestling through all the reverent still Thai people to come to a place where a man is not exposing himself to you in the train station – see how I did that?)

I guess this post has been about convincing myself to meditate more.  Maybe it will convince you too…