October 26, 2011 - One week before departure on second trip to India in one year.
I just made the best pumpkin pie that I have ever tasted, even if I must say so myself, – three pumpkin pies actually –with a pumpkin I grew in my garden. And I harvested basil and eggplants on a spectacular fall day. And there is still arugula, and Brussell sprouts, and gorgeous golden squash flowers still being produced amidst the prolific morning glories.
I also began the serious organizational effort required to secure and carry eighteen weeks of a dozen different meds with me to India, Myanmar, and Australia. And clean and organize the shed. And turn off the outside water faucets and drain and bleed the pipes. And clean up a little more of what must be done in my law practice, all in the service of preparing for and moving towards a journey I don’t fully understand, but am going on nonetheless. An adventure with a sketchy outline, and very little script I can read or see, yet so present that I amaze myself. The separation will be what it is.
October 31, 2011 - I awaken in a state of great happiness, well rested, the day spectacularly beautiful after an autumn nor’easter that has brought fresh air and olden shipwrecks to our shores. I linger in bed for hours writing, excited, and pleased with myself. I am as prepared as I can be for my upcoming adventure, some of which I “get” – the 6 or 7 weeks at the yoga ashram and with Sunil – and some of which I don’t get at all – mostly the 4 or five weeks I need to fill before my rendezvous with Joy in Australia, although I trust, literally and figuratively, that I am guided in this by forces and fates far beyond my ken. And I am so in love with Joy, and that brings me such pleasure, a love that although obviously familiar in certain ways, is also in ways completely beyond any feelings, thoughts, emotions, or sensations I have ever had about anyone. It is not the same as love for a child, of course, which has its own unique vibe and intensity, and it is surely not “puppy love,” but it is quite special, the love of this older, dare I say, mature man, for a truly special, evolved, spiritual, whole, sexual, exploring, honest, fully present woman, who I actually know loves me! Check that one out! Because I do know that Joy is wildly and madly in love with me, and is a totally trustworthy person, and a totally solid person independent of me. And sees me in ways I want to be seen. And in her love, and in her ambit, I am blessed.
November 2, 2011
Time becomes more squeezed and pressurized, relative as time may be. I breathe in deeply and fully, but there is more on my plate than I can conceivably get to before the big bird flies and I am transported blithely from this reality to that such that time itself expands and slows, breaths are expelled and new breaths return, cells do what cells are meant to do, and I am far more aware of these realities as the electronic world fades to black and the competitive squabbles and attention to bureaucratic demands that so characterize life here in this socio-political, antagonistic, conflict ridden time and place of news, murder, theft, war, taxes, politics, perjury, the practice of law, and personal antagonisms great and small, fade from the forefront of my consciousness and view. Leaving only what is present present … and what is not present not … which is just fine, even real. My sabbatical is taken, a walkabout is enacted and begun, a vision quested for is revealed in slow frames and small units. As the Turkish proverb reads, “No matter how far you have walked down a path you know is wrong, now is the time to turn around.”
November 6, 2011
Mumbai is what the sign at the airport reads, but beyond that I really have no idea where I am. What I know is that after passing thru Indian customs and immigration - where my passport and visa were examined and stamped by a man with the longest thumb I have ever seen on a human being – no doubt an adaptive response to decades of flipping passport pages I joke with myself while absentmindedly staring in awe at his dexterity - I then ride in three different cabs, one of which I paid way too much money for so he’d take me to an all night ATM where I can participate willingly in my own exploitation, and then traveled - as vulnerable as any old man carrying $5,000.00 in cash might feel in a poor nation at the absolute mercy of its law abiding and kind citizenry - driving through the urban night without car lights - to save on fuel they reason - a familiar yellow half moon visible through smoggy skies, areas marked by the distinct smell of their unique garbage contents, through overpasses, underpasses, and truck terminal districts, passed acres of crumbling teeming tenements, the apartment windows covered in tattered fabric, the only females to be seen on these hot night streets asleep on blankets on the sidewalks. I walk up three different sets of four story high guesthouse stairways looking for lodging. I settle alone at 4 in the morning in a clean room with three single beds, a cold shower down the hall, and the distinct overpowering smell of ammonia, all for 10$ a night, where the sleepy clerk knocks on my door a half hour after I’ve checked in, asking me to turn my light off to protect their meager profits, even though my sleep rhythms tell me it is still afternoon where I’m used to living. I’ve stayed in far far worse quarters than the India Gate Guesthouse provides, but that said would recommend it only to travelers with serious budgetary constraints.
When I awaken to peek out the Sunday morning window the smog is thick, the day is hot, it is oddly quiet, the street beneath my window is empty as well as clean, and I see only a barefoot woman in a sari shifting leaves around with a very skinny broom. Neither the woman nor the broom can suffice as an explanation for the relative cleanliness of the street. Besides, where are the blaring car horns, the relentless roar of motorcycles, the dogs, the vendors, the beggars? Isn’t this Indian? And even more amazing, I discover I am perched overlooking a harbor filled with small boats. A harbor? Small boats? I am nearer the shore looking out my window here in Mumbai than when I awaken at home by the Namskaket. I clearly need a map, a GPS, an Internet connection, some sort of reality check to orient me in time and space. I can’t even tell which direction I’m looking in … or how the sun is moving. Forget jetlag, I’ve got east west lag. Ah, a horn. Maybe even a crow. Time to leave these comfortable quarters. Time to wander about on my own two feet for a while. It is such a joy, it seems to me, this being human.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
On my last trip to India I did not get travelers’ diarrhea until the very last week in McLeod Ganj. This time I am kept close to my guesthouse by a bout of diarrhea that begins as soon as I awaken on the first day. And whereas on that last trip I had pushed hard at the edge of the foods-one-shouldn’t-eat-in-India envelop, this time I have had absolutely nothing to eat, except a sandwich at Heathrow and what I was served on the airplane … and now, of course, lomotil. So after a quick cruise of my environs, a populated urban peninsular bounded by the Arabian Sea and favored by many Muslim immigrant shop owners, halal restaurants, veiled women, the Marhaba travel agency, and al Fatah cleaners, I’m back in my room on a brutally hot day, sleeping and reading.
I dream an attractive Asian woman who I’ve seen just in passing at yoga enough to say hello to gives me a ride in her van and comes on to me very explicitly. Back at her apartment, which she shares with another single mom, we make love adequately and functionally, but not passionately. Afterwards we engage in a very clinical discussion about her sex life and sexual encounters. She is someone who has made love with many different men. She’s open and aggressive and finds sex whenever she wants to and often. It is usually very athletic and hot as a physical experience, but there is no emotional connection beyond what is inevitably evoked by the physical intimacy and exposure of self. Maybe she sees the man again, or even a few times more, but then there is nothing that binds or holds her - and since she can always get more – she moves on. Even her young son is the product of a passing liaison, engaged in more or less simultaneously with other passing liaisons, although she is sure which man contributed the telling sperm, but has absolutely no ongoing contact with him, doubts she could find him, has no desire to do so, and trusts he has no idea of his paternity. I don’t particularly enjoy the dialog with her. And although she is a fascinating creature - cute, opened, and honest - she holds no interest for me. I am reminded of Scheherazade - the bisexual daughter of Iranian Jews who I had a one night tryst with in Jerusalem - adequate and pleasant as it was – and who said to me the morning afterwards, mostly referencing my age, “It was nice, but I’m never doing that again.”
I sleep the afternoon away. I return frequently to the Asian woman of my earlier dreams. Her name is Ethica. She wants me to spend time with her. She hates being alone. My mother wants me to spend time with her. I really need to be at work. Steve Krugman has lost a hat I’ve given him and is hoping I’ll get him another. The kids I am caring for, Dylan Nolfi around age six and Sam at around three or four, are in the car with my mother and me. They want a treat before I bring them home. We go to the newest rage of a coffee shop. Dylan chooses an omelet instead of a sweet. I get a slice of fantastic looking blueberry pie with ginger ice cream. Maia raises her eyebrows at what is clearly a thousand calorie indulgence. There is no way I will have the time to spend alone with Ethica. There is no way I can get to my law work obligations. The kids are moving far more slowly than I want them to. I do not want to push things, but time is of the essence. There is no way to eat in transit because of the mess it will make in my mother’s car. I feel Ethica’s disappointment. I feel Maia’s, my mother’s, and my own judgments. I am struggling hard against time. The feeling of being all jammed up is palpable. When I awaken I remember the many times I felt jammed up by a variety of women I’ve known since Lynne and how badly that felt. I had forgotten that experience, driven as it was in part by my lack of commitment or desire to be with them and my deep desire to be alone. My relationship with Joy, the ecstasy and the pure pleasure of it, are so different and such a gift to me. I cannot fathom how she and I have gotten here, but it is blissful, dare I even say divine. I finish these seemingly purposeless writings, though far “better” a pastime than computer aided card games, spread my mat in muggy Mumbai, and do some very gentle yoga. And let the yoga do me.
I’m back on the Kit Kat and banana diet.
My first Indian meal is at Dominos Pizza.
My dreams are rich, plentiful, and profound, even if their “meanings” escape me. In one I am trying to study or do some work at a table in a cafeteria. The table fills with people talking about something they are working on together. They go around the table making introductions. When it gets to me I acknowledge I am not part of the group … and although they welcome me to stay, I find another table. The cafeteria has gotten immensely crowded. It is hard to find a place to sit, no less to sit alone. I find an empty space at a table that turns out to be next to a small group that Steve K is running, seated in a circle not at a table, in the crowded cafeteria. He is doing most of the talking, telling a story about a bull who is very passive until stung by a bee, when he is simultaneously seen by those selecting bulls for bullfighting purposes. Steve cannot remember the name of the bull, which is, of course, Ferdinand, and I have a hard time not intruding to share what I know of this famous story of the bull ultimately adored for his loving pacifism. I try to sit alone but a noisy kid sits next to me, who I yell at and whack inappropriately. We do not treat kids as if they have full rights as humans. There is a tyranny of adult oppression – including physical abuse – of weak and helpless youths. I end up driving around in fierce rain with Rick C. and Tracy M. I suggest a walk. They decline. They talk a lot, as opposed to being in the experience of the rain. We try to make plans for a future rendezvous, but my travel schedule is so vigorous and complex we give it up.
As the dream continues, I bump into a former Met State patient in the cafeteria. She looks fabulous. I ask if she is stoned and she acknowledges that she is. I give her the lecture about not using street drugs, the added ingredients of which cannot be measured and controlled the way pharmaceuticals can. I revisit Met State on a day it is being assessed and evaluated by an outside agency. Although I cannot remember the names of key staff persons at Met when awake, in the dream, as soon as I am on the ward, their names – which I clearly now know - all come back to me with surprising accuracy. A member of the social work staff has chosen to be married this day on the ward. All the staff and patients are invited, as an event to share in. A chanting rabbi leads in the wedding procession. Once the music ends a number of patients cannot keep it together, screaming, laughing, calling out inappropriately, and fighting. The disturbance is significant enough that the staff choose to clear the hall of all patients so the wedding can proceed, but the bride says she does not want to proceed in this context without the patients, and that the wedding will just have to happen on some other date. As people are filing out someone is sketching 17th century musical instruments which she is going to craft for the musicians to use at the next wedding.
I awaken in the middle of the terribly hot and muggy Mumbai night, amazed but not surprised by the menagerie of characters I have brought with me to India. I am particularly impressed w Ferdinand, who I think so clearly represents me and my lifelong desire and inclination toward tranquility and peacefulness as that competes with immense internal and external pressures to be more of a warrior in some classical sense of that word, and that potentiality, as representing a cultural ideal.
I dose off back to sleep. Each time I do the dreams, the dreamed, and the dreamers reappear. It is weird and good to be this alone.
I dream an old girlfriend has a long Indian last name, something like Pravadavaravalaria, that I am trying to learn properly and keep leaving out one of the “va”s. She is annoyed. What does it matter? Why do I care or want to know? She is about to go out to cut lawns. It is raining hard. We discuss whether she leaves or picks up the grass cuttings and she says her preference is to leave them as mulch. There is a discussion about the increasingly popular “French” lawn, which never needs mowing.
I dream Russell from yoga is having a big family reunion. He is very anxious about it and wants to do it right. His brothers are problematic. There is a humorous give away grab bag roast. Some of what is given away are machine gun bullets and large empty shell casings.
I dream Joy has fallen asleep in a bed with four candles burning on the bedspread by her head, rising and falling with her breath. When I confront her about the dangers of sleeping in bed with lit candles she gets very upset. She believes the risk is not great, that she was not really asleep, that she was aware of the circumstances. I cannot seem to control my emotional tone, which is confrontational. She asks me what I am “on.” I say that we don’t even need to discuss the merits of my concern, that we can talk about what is happening between us and why it is so angry, why she is so defensive, why I am so self-righteous, but we can’t get out of our own way and continue arguing about “facts,” i.e., what percentage of people who sleep with candles start bed fires, what percentage get burned, and what percentage die. Loren arrives. He wants to make peace, wants his mom to not be upset, but also wants it all to be safe in fact. He wants me to get off my attitude, my high horse. He agrees with me factually about the candles, but doesn’t feel my attitude is helping permit Joy to acknowledge that what she was doing was not well thought out, which she somehow cannot do if I am on her case, but her inability makes me frustrated and angry, and I can’t get out of my own way.
It is soooo muggy and hot here in Mumbai at six A.M., but I feel as though I am on the sleep schedule I’d hoped for, that I brilliantly gave myself the time I knew would be necessary to transition and adapt, that I am a fucking genius relative to my own traveler needs, well and lightly over packed, carrying a complete medicine cabinet of 126 days worth of daily and emergency meds, money squirreled away in 3 or 4 different compartment, extra passport photos, me and lomotil ready to see if we can find a good SIM card, a bus to Nasik tomorrow, and a cabbie willing to show me all of Mumbai in six hours.
November 8, 2011
Here’s an odd little inquiry, which did I enjoy more - my day traveling around Mumbai yesterday, filled with adventure, curiosity, great characters, and pleasure, or my dream this morning, filled with adventure, curiosity, great characters, and pleasure. On the enjoyment scale I’d have to say it was a tie. And if the axis these two events were being measured on was not the enjoyment axis, but rather the revealing, sensational, profound, or useful axes, then which stretched me more? And in that I would have to give it to Bombay, which was ever so much more sensual, visual, multidimensional, unfamiliar, colorful, complex, ancient, layered, populated, and, in certain important ways, more real. Besides which, if I am to be properly respectful of the reader, I also know Mumbai is truly far more interesting, although as the writer I also know it is far far harder to write about.
First the dream, in which Lynne, I, and my parents are trying to sell the house at 251 Chestnut Avenue in current time. A young couple has come to see it. I show them around. There are so many fabulous features. It merges the best of the three houses I owned in Boston and Brookline, but there is also a very spectacular defect involving the emergency exterior exit stairway, which is functionally not useful and in such a state of rot and decay as to compromise the entire integrity of the property, dangerously so. And as the broker, the young couple, and this 71 year old me scamper about in the attic of this house, an attic I don’t think is “real,” although I have seen and dreamt it many times before, a huge potentially useful attic, almost like a barn loft, but completely empty and under utilized, where we encounter real physical hazards, like ladders we are on giving way in slow motion, and stairs collapsing, which require the greatest calm, trust, lack of panic, and balance to ride out to a safe landing.
Now, as for Bombay, it is immense … and, at least where I travel, so obviously the inheritor of British colonial architecture and boulevard design. The trees make it quite beautiful in parts. The coastline is very long. There are miles and miles of beaches, miles of commercial ports. I spent a lot of time in the fish market. The boats are hulking creatures with small real houses on their decks. Men are washing on the decks, off loading large and small dead creatures of the sea, taking on ice and gasoline. There are no ship-to-shore radios to be seen, no radar, and no obvious safety equipment. It is a fleet out of the late 19th century, not a metal or fiberglass hull to be seen, broad beamed, and delightfully colorful. The deckhouses are a diverse palate of designs, slogans, and names. There are many flags and banners flying. The netting, cork floats, clothes drying, barrels, holds, and fat nylon lines make up a rainbow of colors. There are dozens upon dozens of women, hundreds of women, dressed in brightly colored saris, squatting on four inch high stools, shelling shrimp, hour after hour, day after day, huge circles of women, chatting, shooing flies, building vast communal piles of transparent shells while filling small individual bowls with shrimp. There is a lot of staring going on between the women and me, and quite a bit of nodding, and even occasional smiling. And besides, the crows and the seagulls are having an absolute party.
What I should have begun this description of my day in Bombay with was negotiating for a guide with a drunk runner who also offered me women, hash, “anything good sir wants,” chatting with a deformed sandal repairman and his nephews who are off from school on this Muslim holiday, making traffic bearable, but making no impact on how insufferably hot this November day is, sweat dripping off me while sitting still, watching endless events in which huge weight is being moved by human mules, seeing the site of the Muslim terrorist landing in 2008, photographing fish drying in the sun, miles of incredible sandy beaches where no one enters the filthy water, the Jain temple where women “draw” design offerings with kernels of rice, the huge outdoor laundry, the Gandhi Museum, the grown men who want to have their pictures taken with me so they can post them on their Facebook pages, the place in the city where my guide says bodies are laid out to be picked at by vultures as a holy way of disposing of flesh, and the hanging gardens, so named because in the olden days women who were mistreated by their husbands and had no other avenue for escape came here to end their days. “But no more,” my guide Solomon says smiling, “now only the men hang themselves.”
... the ashram ...
December 8, 2011
On board the Nasik to Aurangabad RR Express, rolling past seemingly endless spectacular fields filled with grapevines, tomato plants, sugarcane, cotton, mangos, papayas, coconuts, corn and cabbage. The earth richly brown and well tilled, stretching across the dry Maharashtra plains as far as the eye can see, the plants and trees surviving on some very minimum amount of water from sources unseen. Some trees in this climatic zone actually live for eight months without rain.
I’ve become a far bolder, more familiar and comfortable a traveller, still surprised at myself, and still pleased and excited beyond my ability to adequately express, at peace on this time and space traversing multicar transport vehicle, headed toward a rendezvous with the flesh, the blood, and the supreme consciousness of my sister and nephew, people who share my genetic and familial history and lineage as much as almost anyone now on the planet, other than my own children. I still feel blessed in so many ways as well as immensely grateful, and although life is distinctly more stressful, complex, demanding, and anxiety evoking on the road than in the bubble created behind the gate of the ashram, I am also happy, excited, awed, and even liking myself.
I still feel that I have not in any way adequately captured or expressed the essence of what the ashram was for me, and what it is as an “objective” entity. Nor have I satisfactorily expressed what it is like to be seventy-one years of age, living inside of this specific and particular mind, body, and consciousness. It reminds me of what I thought an anthropologist’s highest aim was, at least as I saw it, which was to first accurately and “objectively” describe what is being observed (ethnography) and then to express what it is like to perceive reality through the mindset, worldview, consciousness, and lenses worn by the members of the subject group. And although I think I can do so for a variety of subsets of Americans, on a variety of issues, ideas, actions, choices, values, hopes, fears, etc., I am quite sure that as to the Indian people I encounter I cannot conceivably say with any degree of accuracy or confidence what the world looks like peering out from their eyes. Which is another way in which I think the ashram succeeded admirably, namely in describing with some accuracy what the world looks like when viewed through what Gandharji, and his father, and Ghandarji’s guru, a disciple of Satchidinanda, saw traditional yog as being.
December 9, 2011
Not your average day in my life and yet a day in which I did something I had already done once before, retracting my steps, step by step, in the very same calendar year that I had first traveled from Aurangabad to Ajanta, its thirty caves and two thousand year old frescos, this time in the company of my sister and nephew, including a long sit with them in the meditation cell in cave #6 where I’d left a pinch of Miles’ ashes a mere eight months ago. Not your average day, indeed. I read the poem I wrote about this cave and Miles’ ashes. Sheryl and Ian cried. We each left a rock as a reminder we’d been there. Sheryl talked about Miles’ anniversary memorial at Pine Lake in November, the poems read, the words said, the unreality of his absence, how seven of his friends showed up at her door late in the afternoon bearing roses and loving memories of who Miles was and of his friendship. But as Saint Patanjali directs, “Now yoga.”
December 10, 2011 – stranger still, this time revisiting Ellora, where we find an absolutely marvelous bee hive, alive and dripping with wax, where I am separated from Ian and Sheryl for hours and hours, each of us making distinct suppositions about the other’s behavior and reasoning and Sheryl being worried and freaked out about my separated circumstances in a way reminiscent of how she’d respond to Miles when they were not in synch, and visiting the Jain cave where I left parts of what was once Miles, now in the care of hundreds of bats who live in this very safe and sanctified space where the ceiling is the ground, and no one crawls or walks since everyone can fly. As for me, I had everything I needed to survive alone anywhere in the world warm enough to not need another layer of clothing, and was quite confortable – including in my minimal survival kit: passport, credit card, laptop, iphone, change of underwear, washcloth, toothbrush and toothpaste, and a week’s worth of meds. What more does a fellow need? And as we rode back into Aurangabad the Earth came between the sun and the moon and covered it in a full eclipse of darkness and shadow. And thus it was … on earth as it is in heaven.
December 11, 2011
I have caught Ian’s cold, or someone’s cold, or maybe even a flu, and it is weighing on me, scratchy throat, hacking cough not in my lungs, woozy, achy, chills, occasional sweating, temp of 101.5, lack of appetite, inordinately tired.
We visit Shirdi, Sai Baba’s temple, in an absolute storm and crush of humanity, being marketed by forces outside anyone or any organization’s control that I could see or find, even searching the Internet. We also visited Sheryl’s old peace corps village, Rahata, now totally unrecognizable, far more a good size town than a village, and then spent the night in a nice hotel in Pune where we ate Tibetan momos in a student enclave near the hotel and I took my first real hot shower in over 5 weeks.
Dec 12, 2011. I am officially sick. Sheryl and Ian are off for Kathmandu and I have found a fourteen-dollar a night room in a nice enough house on a quiet lane near where I stayed before on Burning Ghats Road in Pune. I have also found Apurna and Pravil, am also exploring going to Kathmandu, but most of all I am sleeping … and drinking water and juice … and blowing my nose … and trying to be at peace with what is currently a clammy, sore, diarrheic cold, an ear ache, and maybe a flu, while being kind to myself, respectful of my circumstances, and not too anxious. It is hard to know how much of my mood is a result of being sick, but I am feeling immensely lethargic and without energy, and don’t have any idea what I wish to be doing next on the voyage … other than laying abed and resting … which is not the easiest thing for me to do anywhere, but especially challenging alone here in this alien land. What I am clearly called upon to do at this moment is simply rest, be kind (including to myself), manifest patience and calm, and just be conscious and heartfelt. This is my first real illness in a year of SE Asia travels, a fear manifest, and both a challenge as well as a teaching experience.
The ashram I found so engaging, relaxing, and beneficial, already seems far away. The time w Sheryl and Ian revising the ancient man made caves at Ellora and Ajanta - where I had left pinches of miles' ashes a mere 8 months ago - was mostly predictable. Going to Shirdi (Sai Baba's temple), and visiting the once-upon-a-time farming village (now a bustling good sized town) where Sheryl was in the Peace Corps 45 years ago were each memorable and worthy of a paragraph or a poem, but not now.
After separating from Sheryl and Ian I visited the Iyengar yoga teachers I’d met here in Pune on last trip, took a yoga ropes class from them - quite nice/very different - and went with them to house party/Krishna gathering/darshan, kirtan and Prasad in the modern apartment complex where the yoga studio is, a real glimpse into middle class urban Hare Krishna Indian life. (The hosts had lived in the US for six years and had found Krishna while resident in Bloomington. Who knew that’s where he was hanging?) My favorite lines from the evening were: (1) - "there are only two possibilities, either god exists, or god doesn't exist. and both of these possibilities are very scary," 2 - "when seeking pleasure be guided by what pleases god," and 3 - "99% of all spiritual enlightenment arises from earnest and dedicated chanting." The yoga teachers chant every morning from 3:30 to 5:30 and say it makes them very happy. As I said, who knew?
And on the medical front, at the Krishna gathering I was introduced by the yogis to a very handsome, well spoken, dignified 45 or 50 year old MD, who inquired about my symptoms and then went home to gather and return with some unidentifiable and unnamed pills, which I took. I mean, how can you not trust a certified anesthesiologist who says he learned as much medicine from the Bhagavad Gita as he did in medical school?
And then, in a moment of truly evolved travel chutzpah (that's Sanskrit for bravado) - I booked a flight from Pune to Delhi to Varanasi on-line! for tomorrow!, just like that, even getting a better rate without the use of a travel agent. I also nixed a side trip to Kathmandu, having gotten very mixed info about reentry into India from Nepal and just didn't trust I could get back in after leaving India on the type of visa I have without a 2 month wait ... and I didn't want to gamble on that one ... espec since my flight to Myanmar on 9 Jan - where I am planning to rendezvous w Steve Wangh for a day or two - originates in Kolkata. Anyhow, I’m hoping my time in Varanasi with Sunil and Bhatti will compensate for how otherwise challenging I know Varanasi is. Christmas in Varanasi? I really have no idea how the time between here and Myanmar will be filled, although I am definitely looking forward to some of that time being in the Himalayas in Sikkim, where I hope to hike, find yoga teachers, and/or pursue my solo yoga practice with the new and old arrows in my fully replenished yoga quiver ... and for some reason I'm also looking forward to visiting Kolkata.
Finally, for now, it is worthy of note how the lack of structure out of the ashram requires a completely different mindset/consciousness, inasmuch as it leaves me totally on my own in terms of filling time and mental focus and I have observed in that regard how often I actually find myself chanting ...
Dec. 15, 2011
I arrive in Varanasi quite sick, wondering what the hell I am actually doing here, and appalled as ever by the conditions, the crowding, the shit and spit underfoot, the air quality, the chill in the air - I’m wearing a wool hat, a fleece, and two pairs of pants in the dense and chilly London-like fog that has settled over everything like a dirty blanket of smog. Still, the guesthouse I'm at is located on a very sweet (relative as that term must be) cul de sac, with an Italianate courtyard, where I have a private bath, the rate is 11$/night, and it's actually quiet and relatively clean! Did I really say that? And Sunil and Bharti's home/studio is literally less than 5 minute walk away.
Now, as is my wont to believe, the Indians won't cheat you or steal from you - at least in my experience - but they will take you for all they can get, every last rupee. So, after a conversation appraising my needs and goals, Sunil and Bharti conclude I needed an intensive two week yoga certificate course ... which will cost me 40$ a day (group classes are 4$/2hour class. Okay, that's steep, but it's also what I came for ... and I’m unlikely to ever be back here, anymore than back in Pune, or frankly India … and these are the guides talking to me, right? So I sign up, 4 to 6 hours a day they say. Fine. Then - after further consultation – my trusted teachers decided that what I really need to augment and anchor my yoga practice is to take an intensive Reiki course, after which I will be certified as a reiki master. Now, as we all know I’m a very skeptical fellow about crystal healing, the efficacy of prayer, reiki, Ayurveda, Zoe, etc., but the cost was explained to me to be only 100$, and I figured I might as well scope Reiki out with as open a heart and open chakras as I reasonable can. So I signed up for that too. Only Bharti has “inadvertently” (though not without psychological significance I trust) left a zero off the end of the course price and it is really1000$ dollars for the two weeks, and even though that seemed beyond totally exorbitant, and I felt like a mark with a big bull's eye painted on my back, I also felt that I was being quite clearly guided to these opportunities and being offered a portal through which to explore the possibility of increasing my capacity for energetic healing that I was unlikely to ever encounter from people I distrusted less. Ever.
And so that's what I’ve set about doing in Varanasi for two weeks, taking another intensive yoga course, and studying Reiki. Who knew? I mean I certainly believe we each receive and emit energy from a “universal” source, and I certainly believe energy can be focused and directed, that doesn’t seem too weird. And more than that I don't really know. But in a way akin to the truth that yoga found me, and stretched, deepened, and opened me ... there is also no doubt that Reiki has arisen very explicitly, and declared itself with great clarity, standing boldly right in front of me on the path. And so it goes. I spend an hour doing neti today using fresh cows’ milk and managed to coax a ghee-lubricated catheter thru my nose and down my throat, although I couldn't quite get the catheter out over my tongue and through my opened mouth. (Even with Sunil ever so helpfully putting his lovely clean fingers down my throat.) And then I spent an hour doing pranayama. And then it was time for my nap.
December 22, 2011
A week slides by, much of it doing yoga or asleep. Aside from a trip to the hospital and an ATM machine my days are encompassed and lived exclusively and literally on the perimeter of a one block square - the Teerth guesthouse on one side, the Brown Bread bakery and Wi-Fi on the second side, (there is a second Brown Bread Bakery across the alley, but that is the one we don’t go to), Sunil and Bharti’s home and studio on the third side, and the Megu Japanese restaurant - opened only 10 to 3 - on the fourth. (I have travelled across half the globe to live on and in the parameters of one square block of crumbling real estate.) All of my time is spent within these boundaries. All of my needs appear to be adequately met here, and, in truth, there is no more of Varanasi I am interested in seeing or encountering. I’m studying yoga. I’m practicing Reiki. I’m recovering from the flu. I’ve still got it in my head that I’m going from here to Sikkim.
And on the medical front - my trip to the hospital on Saturday was a truly unique event. First of all the hospital was mobbed as you’d expect, secondly it was clean, not quite what you’d expect, and third, at least from what I experienced of it, was highly efficient (which may just be what the absence of paperwork and paper records can do), if not effective (the measure of which would require a more substantial longitudinal study than this idiosyncratic clinical case report of a 71 year old man with a grippe can offer). I “registered” at a counter along with dozens of other milling pushing folks, for which as a non-Indian I paid 20 cents. What “registered” means is that I gave someone behind this busy counter my name and ten rupees, they gave me back a single piece of paper with my name written on it, and I was assigned to a doctor in a cubicle. The doctor sat alone and collected the pieces of registration paper as the papers were thrust at him by the patients, filed them with the most recently added paper at the bottom, and then called out a person’s name. The person came forward and sat at the doctor’s desk to the doctor’s left. The doctor nodded, giving permission for the supplicant to say what she or he was doing there. This took less than a minute. The doctor then took a very deep meditative breath, exhaled, flicked lint off his cardigan, and wrote something down on the paper, presumably the patient’s complaint. Then he wrote out a prescription on the paper and handed it back to the patient. Then he called the next person’s name; time with doctor, less than 3 minutes. I watched this process 5 times including my own. Twice he took the person’s hand and looked at their fingernails, perhaps focused on the half moon next to the cuticle, but how would I know. Twice he lifted his stethoscope to his ears and listened to the person’s chest. He listened to my chest through five layers of clothing. I took two breaths. He wrote out a prescription for five day’s worth of four separate meds. I asked what he made of my condition. He said, “Take the medication. You will feel better in five days.” Then he called the next person’s name. I went to the pharmacy … right next to registration. The meds were named things like “knock-out,” “staph-go,” and “flu be gone.” The filled prescription cost me six dollars. I left the hospital meds in hand less than a half hour after arriving. I took all of the meds. Five days later I felt much better. My good American family doc and close friend Lyle says I got what I paid for. I dunno. Being sick was no fun. I slept clothed under two blankets. My temp went as high as 103.5 and as low as 93. 5. It’s still under 96. And all the time I was ministered to by Saint Bharti, who gave me Reiki energy healing, plied me with Ayurvedic medicine, and assured I drank lots and lots of sweet fresh milky tea, and caught my cold. The most striking part of the whole experience, the hospital, the doc, the cost, the pills, and Bharti, was my state of mind: my profoundly comfortable aloneness, my overall level of acceptance, the sense of solitude and quietude. Of which there is still more to say that I haven’t come close to capturing … mostly about what being alone in this cave was actually about, how totally alone I am, and what that has meant about self, ego, spirituality, etc. And no, I don't think you get what you paid for ... at least not outside the realm of material goods. But what I do think is that we each mostly give to life our complete and absolute best ... and that then all the rest is gifted to us.
December 27, 2011 - The “even more unknown” part of my trip is about to unfold. I have booked an overnight sleeper car train ticket from Mughal Sarai Junction, Uttar Pradesh to New Jalpaiguri, leaving from near Varanasi on Thursday evening the 29th and arriving in NJP as everyone calls it some 16+ hours later. Even the names of these places sound romantic and lyrical to me, although they often do in India until you get there. I have to travel to NJP because there are NO trains or planes from anywhere in the world to anywhere in Sikkim. And from New Jalpaiguri I'll have to get to Gongtak, Sikkim by bus, or to Darjeeling and then move on by bus. I’ll make those decisions depending on what connections I find and what time I actually arrive in NJP Friday morning. I fly out of Kolkata on 1/9/12 for my rendezvous w Steve Wangh in Mandalay, Burma, so my need to arrive earlier in Kolkata will guide my movements and choices in Sikkim. Then I hang out in Burma for close to four weeks b4 my rendezvousing w Joy in Perth ... and come home to the Cape - inshallah - via San Fran in late Feb. So far, just like I planned it, although Bali is also competing w Myanmar as a draw …
December 29, 2011
Up early on a chilly, gray morning - probably last time forever in this life time and this material form - in Varanasi, clothes washed yesterday still wet on the line, listening to Jai Uttal on the laptop and getting ready for a three class yoga sprint to the finish line and the train at 9 PM out of Moghul Sarai. Been having a great time the last few days within the boundaries of my square block existence comprised of a routine that includes AM and PM yoga, no food until after 6PM, evening Reiki, and that, my friends, is about what makes up the day. Been writing a little poetry that mostly doesn’t satisfy me, but is at least making its way to the page and, of course, deep in thought, and even occasional discourse, about consciousness, divinity, divine consciousness, spirituality, etc. Hey, that’s what you do on a spiritual journey isn’t it, at least apparently if you are me it is. In fact, when people ask me why I came back to India so soon after my last visit, I find myself saying, “I hadn’t finished my work here.”
Went to Sarnath yesterday, where Lord Buddha gave his first talk/discourse after his enlightenment. It was surprisingly moving, complete with Bodhi tree, good archeology, good statuary, rows and rows of burning candles, incense, Tibetan prayer flags, and mobs of Tibetans, Buddhist monks, Himalayan and hill tribe or ethnic Indians, and straight up Indian Hindi families on outings and in pilgrimage groups. The most impressive part for me was an overwhelming sense that Buddha was still there, that his teachings were still current, and that people were coming to the site at Sarnath to be in the literal or resonant presence of the master. I’m not sure why this is any different than Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount, or pilgrims going to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to be present where Jesus’ blood and body were present, but Sarnath definitely felt like a spiritual place, being visited by people moved by a spiritual message, more about morality, reverence, and enlightenment than about dogma, more about honoring a set of teachings than about a god.
I should write something about Reiki and about my session offering healing to the American, David, and his reaction to it ... and something about Monika Mueller, the healer.
At the end of my time in Varanasi I was aware of a special bond that had formed between Sunil and me, Bharti and me, and even between me and their one and a half year old daughter – who could say “nose,” mouth,” and eye” and point to her right body parts by the time I left – as well as their live-in help, Ram, and their servant tobacco chewing woman housekeeper. Bharti liked to talk w me about philosophy. She had meals prepared for me every lunch and dinner. I was taken into their household in a way I’ m sure they do not do with most of their students and there was a common acknowledgement that I genuinely honored and respected them and that the feeling was mutual. Bharti would say frequently how surprised she was that her daughter had opened to me, wanted to see me, was comfortable with me, and that I was a “pure soul.”
I think our bond was in part about the respect that the older generation gets in India, my genuine respect for them as teachers, a “natural” response to my friendly, comfortable, unpretentious, openness, and some kind of genuine indefinable energetic emotional attraction/connection. I know they valued my friendship and the respect and warmth I showed them, and I quickly became a “senior student” who they showed off to others and took a sense of pride in. And it wasn’t just respect between us either, although that was a big piece of what was going on … it was also something that I would call love, personal warmth and … dare I say it … a spiritual connection of consciously bound souls.
December 30, 2011 – Crossing the divide … or to get to Sikkim you have to really want to get there.
I arrive at the Mughal Sarai train station for the 9:20 PM train at 9P quite proud of my ability to negotiate the passage from guesthouse checkout after two full weeks there, to Sunil and Bharti’s, and from Sunil and Bharti’s to the train station, complete with the use of a “coolie” to carry my bags on his head, and another terrifying cab ride in a three wheel rickshaw over the busiest, most amazingly erratic, dusty, bumpy, pitted, alternatively dirt, gravel, and black top, without lanes or borders, main road to a busy train terminus, I’m thinking, in the entire world, only to discover the train is delayed 5 hours. That’s five, count them ladies and gentlemen, five hours and no guarantee it wouldn’t be longer … in an Indian train station, complete with cows, dogs, rats, I mean big un-frightened rats who think the waiting room is their personal garden of Eden, and Indian families sleeping and eating on the floor and pissing over the edge of the platform on a cold December night. Fortunately, Bharti had prepared some food wrapped in old newspaper for me to take on the train, which I ate all of before midnight. Plus she called crying to make sure I was okay and to remind me that India was not the nicest place for a “pure soul” like me to be cruising around in.
Then, as if on cue, and even more fortunately (I almost said divinely, but lets not get too carried away here) I was engaged by the most charming thirteen young old boy – Anurag Sharma - my newest guide – who with his seven person Nepali-Indian family was headed toward … you guessed it … Gangtuk, after their family’s memorial visit to Varanasi, and who adopted me on the spot in the train station, where we spent hours playing a variety of games and exploring my computer. I was also a source of great interest and laughter for the Indians as I ate the aloo paratha Bharti had packed for my trip, unwrapping each paratha ceremoniously from the old newspaper they had been wrapped in and truly enjoying eating them as any old Indian would.
And then at 2:30, the train pulled into the station, only to discover that the “sleeper” class I had booked was not “first” class, which meant there was no heat, and no blankets, and I had to put on just about every piece of clothing I’d brought with me, including two pairs of pants, two pairs of sox, seven layers of shirts, vest, sweater, sweatshirt, windbreaker, and winter hat and actually slept for three or four hours, awakening to the sun rising through the cold morning mist bound for New Jaigulpuri and Sikkim, conversation in Hindi surrounding me, the train alive with tea wallas plying the narrow crowded train corridors calling out “chai,” “hot chai.” I mean, what’s a fellow to do awakening to a reality like that, but whip out his laptop computer and start writing, which, of course draws an unabashed crowd of Indian men and kids – some of whom speak English – looking at the computer and reading what I am writing over my shoulder, which is inhibiting my free expression and making me very self conscious about what I want to write about, which is the absolutely incredibly dreamlike reality of being on a lively, crowded, and I do mean crowded, bustling, challenging, in your face and over your shoulder train on my pilgrimage/voyage to Sikkim.
So I stop writing and go into laptop photo exhibit mode – this is the ashram I was at in Nasik for 28 days, here’s me, my son, my daughter, my grandchildren, this is my girlfriend – which always gets a huge laugh from the crowd and a flurry of questions - the town I live in, my yoga teacher, my bungalow, the beach, tigers, elephants, deer, moths, dead dolphins and birds, my now dead dog, my ex-wife, my garden, snow, friends. Okay, photo display over, time for music … Jai Uttal singing Sita Ram, and yes, amazingly, even the girlfriend singing a song she wrote and playing guitar to music she composed, and no, not famous, and yes, beautiful. Which brings me to my recording of the South African National Anthem, which I play for them and say “Nelson Mandela.” And they ask if I have the American National Anthem on my computer, and I don’t, so they ask me to sing it, and, I mean, what the hell, and there I am singing about the dawn’s early light on a train riding through India. I get it.
All this while children are crying, mothers are chasing their kids with toothbrushes, men and women are walking up and down the train corridor selling everything from flashlights and small locks, to peanuts, water, socks, breakfast, lunch, dishes carried in pails served out by the naked handful into old newspaper to be eaten with the fingers of the right hand, money older than god and looking like used toilet paper passing back and forth, beggars scuttling along on the floor with their hand out, coconut sellers, fresh cut fruit sellers, and even a very stunning, attractive transvestite, with long hair, huge earrings, eye shadow, a silk sari, and his/her beard showing through the makeup, not afraid to make eye contact with me, and offering to dance for money, as total gay as anyone you’d meet on the streets of P’town, who said about me in Hindi the onlookers say, “He is soooo cute.”
Had enough? Everyone in India has a cough. There were no blankets or electrical outlets in sleeper class. Two twenty-one year old Korean women, who were in one yoga class with me in Varanasi and remember my name as Bruno sleep in the two bunks immediately above me, although more amazing than the coincidence, at least in my eyes, is the fact that they actually had sleeping bags.
As morning advanced I was able to take off six of the seven layers of shirts, vest, sweater, and windbreaker that I had slept in and to buy chai after chai, although I couldn’t bring myself to throw the plastic cup out of the train window. “It’s India, just throw it,” said the Indians. The Korean women bought a fried egg omelet. We all tore it apart with our unwashed hands and ate it. I also ate bananas, cookies, peanuts, hard-boiled eggs, and even a samosa and some aloo dish that I bought, yes, from a vendor on a train station platform halfway to NJP. As I said, you have to really want to get to Sikkim to get there. And it’s not just the five-hour wait in the train station, of course, which is merely the prelude, there’s also the actual train ride itself, which takes 21 hours instead of 16, and the physical and social and environmental strain of being on the train. And even that, of course, is also only the beginning because here we are early on the last day of the year 2011, having left Mughal Sarai on the 29th and still not in Sikkim on the 31st.
December 31, 2011
Our train gets in to NJP around 10:30 PM on the 30th instead of the originally anticipated 1:30PM. There are, of course, no buses or jeeps running to Gangtuk at this time of night. And there are no local guest houses available for our party of now 10 - seven Indians, 2 Korean women, and me – except one guesthouse that had part of a dorm becoming available at 2AM, and since the first jeeps start running after daybreak around 6:30A from right next to the train station, the father in the Indian family suggested we just spend the night in the train station waiting room, as we had done the night before at Moghul Sarai, and who am I to say no to the guides. So here I am, literally dizzy and still sea sick/motion sick more than 4 hours after getting off the rolling train (is there any doubt – among other reasons - why I don’t love boats), my yoga mat spread out on the floor of the train station and me trying to sleep on it, Indian style, but having no luck in a room of snoring, coughing, sneezing Indian people, the train station public address system going off every once in a while to announce the arrival on platform 2 or 3 of some train from somewhere and the 7 hour delay of the “special express” coming from who knows where, all of which may account for how many Indian train travelers have the smarts to bring blankets, tarps, rugs, five gallon jugs of water, food for a week, and cooking equipment and fuel before they arrive at the station for a train trip. Did I say you really need to want to get to Gangtuk to actually get there?
Anyhow, challenging, even brutal, as all that is, by 7A I am packed like a sardine into an old jeep, driving on roads comprised almost exclusively of hairpin turns thru the most spectacularly beautiful foothills of the Himalayas, on my way to Gangtuk, and by1PM, oh sweet miracle of life, I am in a hotel room overlooking the western sun shining on the third highest mountain in the world, not a bad way to end the year at all.
January 1, 2012 – Gangtuk, Sikkim – “No entry without purpose.” Sign seen on this New Year’s Day posted on door at Remtuk Monastery, as good guidance for the New Year as any I can imagine.
I awaken to the smell of ceremonial candle wax burning, first day of the New Year, Sikkimese people frequently asking me as the year 2011 closes and 2012 begins if I think the world will end in 2012. I doubt they ask it every year. Maybe it is about some calendric foretelling, but whatever the cause I laugh and say “No.”
“So what do you think will happen?” they ask me quite seriously.
“More suffering. Much more happiness,” I say.
Went to the old monastery in Remtuk, sat chanting and drumming with young monks, awed by their discipline, the artwork surrounding them, the creative energy it took to make the monastery a reality, our debt to the past, and their willingness to have me just plunk myself down beside them. Was asked if I was a lama. Smiled and said, “No,” but maybe it’s another of those definitional problems. Spun about a thousand prayer wheels. Ate crazily. Went higher up into the mountains than I’d been advised to for health reasons, but couldn’t resist Hanumantok at 8,200 feet. Felt the altitude. Took Prasad in the temple there. Ate it. Drove within 30 miles of the border with Tibet at Nathula. Too bad no one but Indians can get in, nor any Tibetans legally get out. Gave myself Reiki; need more practice. Had an immensely romantic encounter with a butterfly. Caught some nice morning glimpses of Khangchendzonga. Wrote. Got to an Internet café and sent a satisfying number of pictures and messages. Was called by Bharti who wished me a Happy New Year and said they all missed me, which was immensely touching. Decided to move on to Pelling in West Sikkim tomorrow, further out than I’ve been, and looking forward to it.
But now it’s time to listen to the Pats streaming from Providence. You can take the boy out of Boston …
January 2, 2012
My wrist watch stopped working, my cell phone ran out of minutes, I cannot call out or get email, I can see my breath in my room, I dreamt of Alan, Carmen, my old black BMW and what a truly wonderful car it was, trying to get an esoteric car part for it, retirement plans, money, the constraints that a lack of money imposes, and the constrains a fear of not having enough money imposes. All of which reminds me I am still of this world … and still within the arch of so-called sanity … even if I’m the only person I have serious conversation with, day after day for months, other than an occasional call with Joy or brief exchanges with my kids, who I miss. I am also laughing a lot, with no one to hear me or note I am doing so other than myself, but many daily encounters and occurrences strike me as humorous, and it is humorous to be who I see myself as being, and it is often humorous to see what I see. Which this morning are clouds so thick I might as well be in a jet airplane as in a hotel in Gangtuk planning to take the overland somewhat treacherous ride to Pelling.
Ah Pelling – if only I could see it …
The road from Gangtok through Ravanga and Legship to Pelling is one of the world’s most spectacular auto roads. I have certainly never driven on a rougher, more dramatic, or narrower road, and that includes the famous road to Hana in Maui, with almost no height and fewer waterfall coming down from holy, royal Mount Haliakala, of which there is only one, whereas this is within an entire mountain range, the road to Monte Verde in Costa Rica, which is much wider and far less steep, although the potholes and rock outcroppings are similar, and even the back road to Mooselookleguntic in Maine, which goes for maybe twenty miles, but is in a similar condition of disrepair. This road curves up and down the Himalayan ranges between eastern and western Sikkim through five sub-climatic zones, although I see mostly what I’d call rainforest, although hardly tropical, with seemingly innumerable waterfalls, avalanches, rock slides, boulders in the road, palms, bamboo, ferns, moss, lichen, flowering plants, tall trees, gigantic poinsettias, and wild orchids that has completely altered my view of what temperature and how much water some of these plants need/like in order to thrive/survive. And while I was driving through clouds with very limited visibility for most of the time, I was nonetheless truly amazed at the human habitations I saw and the wondrous beauty we are enfolded in. Amazed. We (my driver and I) also stopped at two tea shacks where I got hot tea, a delicious spicy fried egg, and, of course, steamed momos. If I survive the sanitation on this trip I will be happy as a clam, which is not a bad analogy for certain kinds of food processing talents.
January 3, 2011 – Pelling, Sikkim
Had a long and lovely phone conversation with Joy who is back home on the Cape after visiting Loren in L.A. over Xmas, followed by a lovely dream of making love with her that included us so enjoying our contact and crescendo-ing physical engagement when all of a sudden I just stopped abruptly, as if completely done, and said, “That was great. What would you like to do next,” and we both laughed knowing it was a joke, and that we would soon return to where we physically and emotionally wanted to be. And although there is a way to pathologize elements of the dream as depicting a break from intensity and a joke to diminish feelings, and some of that probably was present in the emergence of the joke, the main fact is that the joke was also precious, a way of poking fun at ourselves, a way of making a connection, of explicitly sharing our appreciation of one another, and of taking a moment to acknowledge and articulate that, “Hey, this is really wonderful and I’m glad to be here sharing it with u.” It is so nice to have a relationship with a creature such as Joy is, with the person/woman Joy is, and immensely enabling and positive for me.
In another dream I was in a country that doesn’t actually exist, but combined elements of a number of places, real and imaginary, in both SE Asian and colder clime, like Lapland, or Tibet, Mongolia, or Sikkim. I was madly in love with the place and with its people. Ethnic dress continued to be worn by the young. As isolated as the country was, I attended a forum being held concerning the plight of the Palestinians as an indigenous people. I absolutely could not figure out the country’s currency, which was something like 7260 units (I think that’s about the height in feet I’m sleeping at) to the dollar. I was totally lost in the streets and comfortable with that fact because although I cavalierly left my hosts without their address or a phone number I did know the name of a landmark in their general neighborhood and trusted I could find their place once I can got back to that landmark. I also visited what was called a circus, but was really just an amalgam of acts happening all at once in the round. I also visited a bar where delicious foods were offered from a buffet you selected your treats from. It had coed bathrooms, with showers. The people were so alive and vibrant. Everything was BIG. Firemen used massive matched teams of Belgian and of Percheron horses. Huge Saint Bernard dogs roamed the streets bumping into people as they obliviously frolicked. Some were even used to pull sled-like carriage taxis, running like a dogsled team with great speed and grace through streets and picturesque tunnels. I want to live there, to be among these people, to detail their energy and grace, to be a cultural anthropologist/ethnologist amongst them.
This desire to be an anthropologist/ethnologist (the distinction between the two, or how I use and differentiate the words, at least to my mind, is quite fascinating), and to understand the attitudes and worldview of others - personality and culture it used to be called - is a very prominent hunger of mine here in Sikkim, where there is so much I do not understand, but know would be accessible if I could only speak the language and live among them for a time. And the socio-cultural history of this place fascinates me. I wish I could find some academic cultural historian and chat with her or him for a while. It is mostly what I perceive as their bubbly happiness, gentleness, kindness, humility, good humor, pride in people and place, that draws me both to the Sikkimese and to the people of the dream, as has that same perception often drawn me to other cultures and peoples who seem to be taking more pleasure in their existence and in the simple content of their daily lives than Americans appear to choose or be able to, at least to my perception. And, of course, I continue to feel quite alienated from America and Americans, much as I have all my life he writes, staring out the window as the clouds that have enshrouded the proximate Himalayas now rise to create spectacular partial peak visibility, as I worry, in a not very here and now moment, about what will equivalently engage me when I am at home.
But today, Pelling, a truly remarkable place, even if the clouds did cover most of the higher mountain peaks, because (a) I’m just in an amazing place as a seventy year old guy travelling thru time, space, and Sikkim, (b) because I’d did get some great occasional sun splashed glimpses of Rathong, Khangchendzonga, and other peaks in the range in the early morning, and (c) because I again spent the day driving around, as I did yesterday, saying over and over again, “This is so beautiful. This is just so beautiful.” And, of course it is beautiful, spectacular I’d say, houses perched on the very thinnest ridges of impossible peaks and crest lines, terraced fields at 6,000 feet, a descent from Pelling at approximately 7,000 feet to Rambi, which is on a river’s edge, perhaps still at 3,000 feet, a vertical distance of less than a kilometer, taking 12 kilometers of twists and turns to get down. And everywhere people walking on the most deserted stretches of road, obviously going from someplace to someplace else, but, man, I have no idea where, and wherever it is, it’s gotta take them many hours to get there. I said to my surprised driver, “let’s pick up some of these people, please.” And he did (reluctantly?). And when we let them out a good five or six kilometers down the road and they offered the driver money he shook it off, a very nice move, I thought, both for him and for me.
I also had what sometimes seems to me almost like my requisite three less than “this could really have been bad” accidents/reminders early – my iPhone falling out of my jacket pocket onto a little slotted bamboo bridge, where it got lodged at a crazy angle barely precluding its falling into the water below, banging my head coming out of a bathroom down by the river, and banging my head a second time on a long bamboo shaft leaning up against a wall at a monastery above Pelling while not quite paying proper attention. (Duh. Obviously.) Reminded me of Colin Turnbull writing of his life among an African rainforest band of pygmies in “The Forest People,” that he figured the role he fell into with them was village idiot. But I don’t want to be unkind to myself, or unnecessarily critical of myself, except to note that most pain I now experience seems avoidable and that choosing pain is a blunder.
And there is more. After descending from Pelling to Rambi, we climbed again to around six thousand feet where the road literally ended after about 26 kilometers at the small village and monastery of Khecheodpairi, a short walk from “Wish Fulfilling Lake,” a small mountain lake clearly shaped in the form of a huge left foot print that certain Buddhists believe was made by a goddess passing through the mountains. I was particularly moved on the path to the lake by the manifestations of the love of rocks, rocks carved and inscribed on, rocks piled upon one another in precarious balance, rocks laid out so that they appear to be growing up a tree stump, rocks on top of rocks, offering the simplest, most accessible kind of devotion, remembrance.
I lit three butter candles inside the monk’s cabin at the lake, my wishes encompassing all my blood relatives now living, Joy, Loren, my departed parents, Miles, and my adopted cousin Robert. Be in peace, beloveds. Be in peace.
After the lake I drove back up to 7,000 feet or so, covering the same muddy, rock strew, collapsing 12 kilometers of road and ended up at the lovely Pemayangtsi Monastery just outside of Pelling, near the ruins of the old Sikkimese capital, followed by a visit to the totally isolated, delightful Lotus Bakery where I bought a most delicious “apple roll.” I mean, delicious.
Then, after more momos at the local “café,” a shack overlooking the street on one side and the mountains on the other, more chai with farm fresh steamed milk, more peanuts, and the precious occasional Kit Kat, I was ready to face the long lovely night, looking forward to writing, to reading, to rest, and to what I hope is another spectacular drive tomorrow, continuing on to Darjeeling. Amen, Great Spirit. Amen.
January 4, 2012
Two powerful and quite thematically similar dreams accompany my first mildly uncomfortable/distressed night on my voyage, alone in Pelling, my cell phone out of minutes for techno reasons having to do w “roaming charges” and being in Sikkim I think, thus leaving me feeling more cut off and vulnerable, a disturbing sensation in my chest I hope is mostly related to food, or altitude, or bronchitis, anything but my heart please; being un-tired and restless with a long dark cold night in front of me; the father in “Namesake,” the brilliant book I am reading, dying suddenly of a heart attack; the manager of the hotel I am at in an impulsive moment of wanting to give me something, borne of what I now see as a familiar pattern of people being moved somehow by some combination I’d guess of who I actually am, by my energy and my smile, by my mala and shaved head, by my age and the fact I am bravely traveling alone, by some perception that I am, if not a holy person, then at least an interesting, attractive, and warm person, ceremoniously giving me a postcard of blue Six Armed Mahakala, surrounded in flame, skulls adorning his headdress, to “protect” me and keep me safe he says, but disturbing to me and “religious” as opposed to “spiritual” in a way that makes me uncomfortable, even as it was given as a “gift.”
As for my dreams, in both I am a younger man, in my forties or early fifties, very lost, without purpose, without income, unable to motivate myself to do anything to make money, depressed in my being if not in my affect, and frightened by my inability to engage, aimless, and concerned. I turn to Steven for help. Steven, who I imagine must still distance himself from the internal critical voice that arises within him when making the inevitable comparisons between the life he has chosen and the life I have chosen, mine a life he would absolutely not want or like, his a life consistent with his truest self, but still it is the comparisons themselves that make him uncomfortable. He has little to offer other than urging I find a way to take the need to make money seriously, to make compromises if need be, but to allocate at least some of my energy and time to the pursuit of a monetary bottom line, or in the alternative a genuine passion although neither of us have seen any evidence of creative passion and direction in my life for quite some time. I then counter his concerns by pointing out I am actually in my late sixties, not fifties, and that I am involved in a very conscious and calculated gamble about how long I will live, and have decided, that at least for me, money is really not the issue, that purpose and engagement are the issue.
And here we find me, on the floor of my hotel room in Pelling, Sikkim, seated cross legged on a prayer mat, close as I can get to the heater, clouds almost totally obscuring the snowy peaks, but the valleys clear and green below, as I recall a very interesting image from last evening of looking up at the sky and not being able to see any stars, and then looking down and out into the long deep valleys, where the lights from houses glistened like stars in the heavens, spread out on an inverse canopy or apron, heaven above and heaven below. I consider myself deep into my spiritual journey, mindful that one must truly be careful what they wish for, that “mann tracht und gott lacht,” insecure/concerned at times, in a way I can generally overcome, about my “rationality” (if not also at times my sanity), not exactly “praying,” but definitely trying to channel energy and be open to energy, and be opened to spirit, and to spirit guides, and much as I know that projection and suggestion are powerful powerful forces in the human sphere, and attitude is everything, and perception is reality, still, my perception is that energy is being moved, if not “transformed,” directed, redirected, and channeled all the time, and that my being’s ability to “consciously” (and unconsciously) partake in and even influence the movement of energy has risen immensely and that I am somehow closer to a conscious awareness of and an intentional, non dualistic living of my own spiritual/energetic essence.
One last thing worthy of mention here: as I practice yoga these days I imagine myself “leading” a class, which, of course, requires me to be talking to myself as I provide guidance and instruction. And while the talking is a bit of a distraction from my own meditative asana and breathing practice, what I notice is the emergence of my own language, emphases, direction, rhythm, priorities, and pace. And I like them, a lot. And whether anyone else will … ah for that grasshopper there is only practice.
January 5, 2012 – Siliguri, West Bengal
My dream of Sam becoming suddenly accidentally totally blind at age eleven was so immensely painful that I woke from it vigorously shaking my head as if to clear it, begging that it was just a dream, and actually even frightened to write about it or speak it’s terrifying name. The loss of sight to a boy at age eleven would be so painful and sad, and although I trust it might be overcome and compensated for over the course of a lifetime, even transformed into a “gift,” it was in the moment of the dream’s devolution completely devastating and tragic, reminding me of the horrible reality of the boy at Camp Beckett who was struck with that weird encephalitic disease that literally cost him his arms and legs (just kill me, please). Don’t know where all this came from, I mean besides inside my brain, but the association I make to it in a personal psychoanalytic sense is of the transformation I went through from living as an essentially blissed out spirit/soul/fetus in a warm placental cocoon (there were some moments of adrenalin induced anxiety even there), and a mostly mellow spirit swaddled warmly in my infant body, to being an anxious, unhappy, frightened, self critical, not very loving, not very awake, human child and adult. And how then, after seven decades of living, learning, struggling, working hard, the love, friendships, teaching, and learning I did receive, a few mind altering medications, and some marvelous good fortune (“I give my best, the rest is given to me”), was, lo and behold, transformed into a creature preparing peacefully to surrender to non-existence and also able to drive six hours from Pelling to Darjeeling, arriving after sunset, and distinguish between irrational anxiety and real physical discomfort, and make the rational, though ambivalent and not easy to reach choice to forgo staying overnight in Darjeeling and instead heading out toward the airport in Siliguri, hoping to find a hotel and be able to book a flight to Kolkata a day early the next morning. And therein lies a tale.
I left Pelling with my twenty year old, fairly decently English speaking driver at 9A. Our first stop, of course, was at the Lotus Bakery. Afterwards we drove all the way down to south Sikkim and then up West Bengal to Darjeeling. I think the drive took close to six hours. And when we got to Darjeeling I found it so cold and noisy (there was a music festival blasting in the town square) that I had my driver take me back down the mountains to Siliguri where I found a reasonable hotel and from where I will fly out.
January 6, 2012 – Calcutta/Kolkata
Bruce gets so lost in the Lahiri book that he begins speaking to himself like her narrator, thinking like her narrator, describing his experiences as she describes Gogol’s.
The flight from Siliguri to Kolkata is short and uneventful. He sits in Kolkata airport searching the Internet for hotels without any idea of the dimensions of the city or what he is looking for other than a clean affordable place in an interesting part of the city. He chooses randomly and rides into the city in a one of the ubiquitous yellow taxis manufactured in the 1950s that crowd the city. His driver speaks no English, but can open the door to his cab at any speed and spit out into the streets.
It is a long drive from the airport. The city is gray. The sky deeply overcast. The air thickly polluted. The cab stalls out at every red light and is restarted on every green. The dirt, decay, and the poverty around him contrast sharply with newly risen glass constructions and neon signage. The hotel he has chosen is in the Elgin Rd. area. His room faces a noisy street. After checking in he wanders past the Lakshmi Temple, buys a chai from a street vendor, and finds a Crosswords bookstore where the clerks all speak English, the air conditioning works, the lights are bright, and familiar soft jazz music is being played over a speaker system. It is reminiscent of home and he likes it, spending hours there browsing, reading about Kolkata, trying to figure out what might engage him in this city of twenty million on the banks of the Ganges that is clearly not Paris, but finds his searches fruitless.
An effete and well dressed clothing designer buying oversized coffee table books reduced in price after the holidays for his showroom overhears Bruce’s inquiry of the store manager for a restaurant recommendation and directs Bruce to a well known traditional Bengali eatery located in an alleyway not far from the bookstore. The restaurant is quite busy, there are many English speakers eating there, and it must be quite well known or appear in many guidebooks. He eats a full three course meal for the first time in many months: roasted eggplant, daal chips, poori, home made chutney, lentil cakes, a potato and cabbage dish, zucchini in yogurt sauce, even a cold desert which comes wrapped in a banana leaf. He thinks about the interrelationship of his searches, for hotels, destinations, books, teachers, even god. He knows today is not to be one of his more engaged or higher days, but he has just descended from Sikkim, from the forces and energies of the mountains and their peaks, and it is a time of transition, his nine weeks in India drawing quickly to a close and he feels that ending keenly. As he prepares to move on he remembers this time in India with great fondness. It was not so much India that had inspired him he thinks, as it was his being in India.
And with that he forces himself to break away from his writings, his reading, yoga, and all he can comfortably do in any room, anywhere on the planet, and wanders out aimlessly, his bags not yet unpacked from Sikkim, back into the streets of the city.
January 7, 2012
It is “odd” to be leaving India after more than two months here. On the one hand I just can't wait to be away from what for me is an overwhelming intensity and physical/emotional challenge being in this godly/ungodly place. On the other hand I am truly appreciating the positive transformation(s) and opening(s) in my spirit/soul/psyche that I believe being in India has fostered and made possible. I have also "fallen in compassion" with no less than 3 Indian boys/young men, all of whom I wish I could bring home ... only not really ... including a deaf boy here in Kolkata of about 11 years of age, whose condition I suspect is correctable, who works at a street walla's tea shop not far from Mother Teresa's HQ for about a dollar a day and, as best as I can tell, lives under the tea walla's table and tarp.
It's a perspective altering reality, this India place, both the genuine spiritual consciousness and positivity to be found here, and the poverty you know is here but can forget about most of the time, especially living in the opulent west. But one day on the streets of Kolkata, chased by beggars, starving kids, grossly deformed humans, hard working people laboring in sweatshop conditions, women employed breaking big rocks into gravel with hand held sledge hammers eight hours a day six days a week, barefooted sixty year old rickshaw "drivers" running thru the streets pulling their fares like oxen in their traces ... I dunno ... The yogis try to teach us to accept what is real without despair, not to be inactive or non-responsive, but just to understand that the world we see is the world we think exists the days we see it ... and that the most any of us can ever hope to do to change it (if that's our wish), is to change ourselves.
January 8, 2012 – Kolkata – last day in India
Wide-awake at 4:30A.M., the day overcast, chilly, and raining. Bruce thinks he has literally not seen more than one or two glimpses of the sun since leaving Ellora more than four weeks ago. And although in a foreign city, on foreign soil he is not likely to return to, where he is “supposed” to be out doing things and encountering the world and the glories of god, the prospect of spending the day relaxing in bed, just resting, letting his soul release India, do little, do yoga, read and write is so pleasant, adequate, and satisfying a view of a lovely day that he surrenders to it.
He talks early on the phone with Joy who has sent him an excited email about a big design project she is likely to get in Orleans. She is at work on a Saturday. She is such a delightful creature, much as Bruce knows he is quite glad not to be living inside her skin. And although he cares about and loves her immensely, the time and priority she gives to her engagement with her business, and her focus on the need to make money, is not a place where he is any longer interested in spending much time. And while he sees how Joy’s work structures and seizes her, he wishes she were more interested and able to come out and play, to travel with him, to make music and draw, to free her mind, which is apparently more likely to be done at seventy than at fifty five. And the truth is, that this labor of creativity and love is what Joy is meant to be doing at this time, and what works for her, gives her the most balance, permits her time for physical exercise, spiritual exercise, some music, and some friends. “It is not a problem of not having enough time,” she says, “it is a problem of not having enough cash.” And in its mysterious way, the life that is living Joy is best for both of them anyway. Very nice, very nice, Bruce says to himself. Remember?
I spend my early morning writing and reading. I have been writing and reading a lot. Arbitrarily I pick a year of my journal to see how it ended and began, to contrast it with 2011. I open 2004 and get so sucked in and engaged I carefully read half of it and skim the other half. The writing is excellent. If there were a more engaging plot I’d think it substantial enough to be of interest to others. I observe how much I have been writing each day and wonder again what it would be like to be working on a book, but no plots, and no substantial storylines other than my subjective narrative and my occasionally descriptive ethno-sociology compel me. I have begun reading Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name is Red,” and am once again bowled over by the remarkable skill, depth, and breath of his talent, and how all of that, when merged with his remarkable story telling ability, gives his work the imprimatur of “literature” and makes for its recognition as genius and its broad appeal. This was true for “The Tiger’s Wife,” and “Namesake,” that the good writing was wrapped around a good narrative plot. And I cannot find such a compelling storyline, other than my own autobiographical, not even when provided access to a life such as Alan’s … although every once in a while I still think the Franklin materials meritorious, and compelling, although I am so far away from those people, their oh so youthful struggles and follies, and how far away it seems.
2004 – when I was apparently still in love with Lynne. When Sam was still at home, his HS basketball team playing for the state championship, and he was applying to and going off to college. The year my mother died. The year Maia and Karl married and Maia became pregnant. The time when I was enmeshed in the Kucinich campaign, and the world of dreaming, and completed the month long Anna Forest teacher training program in Santa Monica, and left my law practice for a month. In reading the 2004 journal I thought the death of my mother, Maia’s marriage, and Sam’s leaving home were all immense in fostering the personal transformation just starting to peak up over the horizon and about to unfold … in trips to Palestine, the affair with Trish, the end of my marriage, my move to the Cape, the transitioning of my law practice, but nothing had greater impact than the death of my mother, even Sam’s leaving home which so changed the balance and ecology of Lynne’s and my lives together.
Now, where was I, oh, yes, Kolkata. I went to the deeply underwhelming Indian Museum yesterday, but for someone raised on the American Museum of Natural History the bar is, of course, placed quite high. And the displays I saw lacked color, the lighting was poor, and the range of material objects displayed was quite limited.
In the evening Jaimual the deaf boy and I go shopping among the street vendors that line the sidewalk along the main street of this area of town. I buy him a nice winter jacket, as I’d agreed to. He picks out one that costs five or six dollars, is at least two sizes too big for him, and can’t be persuaded to choose one more consistent with his current size. And this is to be his choice and he is clear and consistent as to which jacket he wants. I also buy him a reasonably solid pocket wallet for a dollar and give him a couple of dollars worth of rupees to put in it. He also wants a pair of black imitation leather and wool gloves without fingertips that are again too big for him and costs a dollar and a quarter. I do not understand why he wants the gloves and hold out a dollar in one hand and the gloves in the other and indicate that he must choose and may only choose one or the other. He considers his options thoughtfully and patiently and is clearly torn as his eyes wander back and forth between the gloves and the rupees. In the end he choose the gloves. I let him know the shopping trip is finished when he next is looking at belts with nice buckles.
I say goodbye to Jaimual without returning to his cart. As he accepts my proffered hand in a man-to-man handshake I look him carefully, and in what I intend to be warmly and earnest say to Jaimul, “Have a good life,” as if ordering him to do so. And holding his right hand with mine I point at him admonishingly, the index finder of my left hand wagging and a huge grin spread across my face, “Have a good life,” I command him.
In the morning it is raining so hard the taxi driver can barely see the roadway ... and then I am at the airport ... and then again in Myanmar. The miracle of the transition is deeply felt and I am very glad to be out of and beyond the overall Indian experience.