Friday, October 31, 2008

Diwalli Celebrations

Crack. Bang. Ka-Boom. Giggle giggle. Snicker snicker. Whizzzz Zoom. These are the sounds of the street and today they are in full swing. Kids set off firecrackers and then run like mad. The loud bangs pierce my eardrums and with each ignition I nearly jump out of my skin with fingernails launched into the ceiling. This has been going on for three days solid and exponentially increases through the holiday.
The anticipation of Diwalli has been building for weeks and preparations are well underway. Lots of food and decadent sweets are made for the family and shared with the Holy Men, the Brahmans. Lights and decorations are strung up adding colour and vibrancy to the dusty streets. Bob’s crew of Punjabi boys were really geared up … they got their hands on a real gun and blasted some bullets into the sky. Hee Haw! Adrenaline and blood sugar levels were at an all time high. After sunset we lit the candles and watched the show. Fireworks in every direction were lighting up the sky. It was a sight to behold, a spectacle for kids and adults alike. You sure had to be on guard for renegade sparks though ... they could sneak up on you and light you in the ass.

Dharamshala Dreams

Ever since I visited Dharamshala two years ago, I have dreamt about my return. I felt such a deep connection and have carried that feeling in my heart ever since. Nestled in lush greenery and mountainous terrain, it is home and refuge to the Dalai Lama and many Tibetan people. This special place emanates hope, peace and happiness.

This time I returned with Bob and the Adampur contingent. We had an incredible ride from Punjab to Dharamshala in Bill’s (Bob’s Dad) new Scorpio Jeep. We made a few pretty cool stops along the way including Hindu temples where we were blessed by a Pundit and an old Fort with heart-thumping views of the countryside. Bhuaji and Gugan stayed with us for one first night as they made the journey specifically to see a Tibetan doctor before heading back to Punjab. Bob got on that program as well and discovered consistencies with the Ayurvedic prognosis. I checked out Vijay’s Universal Yoga where I had practiced Ashtanga Vinyasa two years ago. My first morning, I struggled through the full set of the primary series. Three days later with consistent practice and relaxing afternoon programs I felt stronger and healthier than ever. My hip pain that I have been dealing with has been subsiding over the past couple of months as a result of diligent practice and adapting a slower pace of life. I have managed to decompress the joint and create new space. Ah, the joys of newfound mobility and healing oneself!

On the afternoon of October 22nd we decided to take a walk through rural paths and back roads to the neighboring village of Bhagsu. We soaked up the energy of the soft, green trees stopping to say hello to the naughty little monkeys along the way. Passing prayer flags, roaming goats, fields mid-harvest and places of worship, we made our way to the waterfall. As we started our ascent up the mountain, Bob pulled out the camera and gave it to me to snap a shot of the magnificent vista. I reached into the camera case and discovered a special box that held the most beautiful deep blue topaz ring.

Once I opened the box and saw the sparkles I started to cry. The big question was about to be popped. This was the moment that little girls dream about and it was happening to me. Bob got down on one knee, held my hand and asked me to marry him. We professed our love and commitment and he placed the ring on my finger. It fit perfectly. It was a moment that I will never forget. The rest of the day we explored, laughed and felt truly blessed. We can manifest our reality and make dreams come true.

The next day we found out that the Dalai Lama was going to make a public appearance. What luck! He had returned from Delhi just recently as he had health concerns and was in the hospital. Everyone was very concerned about him but was certain he was much better now. The next day we woke up early to attend the 48th Anniversary ceremony of the Tibetan Children’s School. I understand that each year a certain number of children are smuggled into India from Tibet. This year there were 15 children that were brought to Dharamshala for a chance at a new life. We hiked up the mountain for 45 minutes alongside monks and Tibetan families to catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama. Upon our arrival we found a place amidst the hundreds who had gathered and quickly spotted His Holiness sitting front and centre in a balcony above the large track and field. Tibetan voices echoed through the loud speaker into the crowd. When ‘His Holiness’’ spoke we instantly recognized the unique intonations of his voice. Everyone stopped to listen, reflect and pray while he spoke in a gentle and playful manner yet strong and firm at the same time. We were witness to this magical moment in history. The newspapers reported that he plans to retire soon. I am so happy that Bob and I were graced with the opportunity to see him together.

Family Time in Punjab

I just met my new family and friends in Punjab and received the warmest welcome from everyone.

Introducing from the city of Adampur:

Bhuaji – Bob’s Dad’s ‘older sister’ and head of the family. We stay with Bhuaji in her home and she rolls out the red carpet. She is teaching me the ways of making roti and how to spice Punjabi food. I admire the way she embraces different religions and practices elements of each one.

Chachiji – Bob’s Dad’s younger brother’s wife (younger sister) who has the warmest heart and most beautiful smile. Even though I cannot speak Punjabi (yet) we communicate with great ease. This woman is resilient, strong and walks the path of an angel.

Gagan – Bob’s little cousin who is ten years younger to the day and Chachiji’s son. He attends college in Jhalander and is studying computer science. A dedicated student, genuine friend and little joker, Gugan helps his family and loves to laugh.

Charanjit – Bob’s best friend that he’s known since he was ten years old. What an incredible character who can talk your ear off but only in Punjabi even though he knows English very well. He is generous, thoughtful and dreams of making a life as a truck driver in Canada. He has toured Bob and I all over Punjab and HP and he would not hesitate to give you the shirt off his back. He is now my friend and Punjabi teacher.

The Doc and Sunny – Charanjit’s best friends. The Doc works at the hospital in Jhalander and Sunny is training in the hotel biz as his family owns a couple of properties in Canada. Sunny and Charanjit were featured with their red hot rod jeep in a Punjabi music video as part of the hero and villain groups.

Auntie & Uncle – Charanjit’s parents always have an open door. Their hospitality and friendly smiles put you at ease. Auntie facilitated some ‘mendie’ for me, henna designs on both palms that made me smile every time I looked at the intricate details.

Aman – Charanjit’s younger sister. A shy beauty of 25 who studies hard at computer science and speaks perfect English. She misses her older sister greatly who now lives in Mississauga with her new husband, five year old daughter and husband’s family. She hopes one day to move to Canada as well.

Chacha – Bob’s Dad’s younger brother (cousin brother). A successful businessman who runs an organization similar to Rona. His wife and daughter live in Hyderabad as the daughter is in training for her new job in the IT industry. Mom lives there as well to look after their daughter. Imagine this cultural aspect in Canada.

Vijay – Bob’s cousin who worked as a software engineer in the IT industry in Bangalore is now studying for his Masters in Chandigarh. He is applying to graduate schools in Canada and the US and will find out if he is accepted in the spring. His kindness, charm and intelligence is most becoming and it’s a pleasure to hang out with him.

And from the surrounding villages:
Maserji & Massiji – Bob’s Dad’s mom’s sister and her husband (also the sister of Bhuaji’s father). They are the sweetest old couple who live a simple life working the fields. Their children are married and live in the cities. They reside in the same village that Bob’s Dad is from, Nadlon and look after Bob’s Dad’s family home that has been recently reconstructed.

Bhuaji - Bob’s Poppa’s sister. I could see the family resemblance and she was so happy that Bob came for a visit. She had not seen him in so many years but instantly recognized his face.

Massiji - Bob’s mom’s sister. Once again, her eyes lit up as she saw Bob. She was happy to meet me as well. Of course, everyone wants to know when we are getting married.

And there is more family in the villages that we have yet to meet. We vow to return each year as we appreciate the lifestyle and the people. Perhaps we’ll organize a project to benefit the children of this area or get involved with an NGO. Whatever the case, it’s wonderful to meet my new family in Punjab and become a part of this world.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Life is Chai

Saying goodbye has never been easy for me. It’s so hard not to grow attachments to people, places and experiences in your life. The night before we left Rishikesh was really special. We wanted to spend it with Bharat and his family at the Chai Shop. So we hung out drinking tea with Papaji, who refers to me as his Canadian daughter and Bharat’s big brother who has the tiniest new baby son. The baby has no name as of yet but the family sure has a good time comparing his features to those of a monkey. That night we went to Bharat’s favorite local restaurant for a meal. Chappattis were rhythmically slapped into the tandoor oven while thalis were served up by the dozen. Afterwards we took a stroll in the moonlight along the Ganges where it was more ‘shanti’ as opposed to the busy-ness of the main bazaar. We sat atop an ancient set of steps and stared into the fast flowing currents, the warm wind blowing through our hair cooling us down from the hot day. We joked about the similarities of life to that of a cup of chai, understanding full well that we all experience ups and downs, good times and bad, problems and solutions. But finding balance and harmony amidst the pendulum is what we strive for.
The next day we organized our tickets on a night train from Haridwar to Punjab. We decided to forego our beach time for more of a relaxed visit with Bob’s family and if it’s meant to be, the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala. Another lesson in relinquishing control and dropping my expectations. As we set out to meet our taxi to take us to the train station I could feel the emotions welling up inside of me. Our baggage was placed into a rickety cart that was pulled by a sturdy little man. It was hard to keep up with this guy as he wheeled our belongings in and out of the people of Ram Jhula. I found myself waving goodbye left and right to this shop owner and that Baba and this beggar and that travel buddy. What a feeling … this place, these streets, the people had become so familiar and close to my heart and now we were leaving in pursuit of the next chapter.

We arrived at the train station a couple of hours later and I was completely re-acquainted with the real Indian experience. Hoards of people were milling about in all directions moving to their next destinations and working the streets. Our backpacks weighed a ton and I felt embarrassed by the amount of stuff that I had taken on the journey. We sat down to wait for our express first class sleeper next to a leopar that was missing some of his fingers and toes. He was laying on the ground with his few belongings and a book on Krishna, which I imagined gave him much support and comfort. Bob and I quickly became the spectacle of that side of the platform. A group of young boys positioned themselves to watch the show while other random people just blatantly stared with eyes nearly popping out of their heads. A Baba struck up a conversation to let us know how sore his leg muscles were from wandering the mountains. He told Bob to squeeze his thigh just for good measure. Next thing you know he was preaching to anyone who would listen … and he had some takers agreeing that one must follow the paths of the Gurus. ‘Why does everyone sit in their air-conditioned cars? We are losing our circulation.’ Damn right. That is exactly why I have been making the transition from sitting behind the computer for 8 hours per day to a path that is more meaningful. As Don Juan said, ‘For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel looking, looking, breathlessly.’
Amidst this scene we somehow missed our train. We both felt frustrated and fatigued but managed to go with the flow and crack a smile. Today we are riding in a taxi across two provinces to meet Bob’s family. The driver told us to keep our windows up as we pass by police. Guess we are in a taxi with some limitations on transporting foreigners. Ah India, my India … a land of heart where anything is possible and everything goes.

Asana by the Ganges

Listen to your body ... feel your body ... turn your mind to the inside ...

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Law of Karma

A couple weeks back we discovered a yoga philosophy class at the Ved Niketan Ashram just down the road. What better way to learn about 'The Bhagavad Gita' then to have it interpreted by Swami Dharananda, a devotee of the Ashram for the past 20 years. The lectures took place in the basement of the main worship centre of the Ashram. It felt a little eerie walking amidst the caged figures of the deities down to a dark room encompassed by a number of 'meditation caves'. These meditation caves sparked my curiosity. They were like small prison cells where one would sit with no distractions or much natural light. In the middle of the basement the group gathered before an alter that showcased pictures of all the enlightened masters, Gods and great teachers of the world.

In his first few lectures, Swamiji candidly discussed the subject of Karma.

Law #1: Law of Karma. Swamiji used all kinds of explicit examples from smoking to adultery to telling lies to charity to illustrate how our physical and mental actions can create a 'fruit' that is either pleasurable or painful. These actions subsequently create 'sanskaras' or seeds that produce desire to repeat the action. So that's why it's always so difficult to learn our lessons ... and more often than not we learn the hard way!

Law #2: Bondage / Reincarnation. Our karma binds the soul to a cycle of repeated births by the chain of: action - fruit - seed - desire. In other words, our soul takes on a body again and again in order to become aware of our soul nature. The evolution of the soul journey is quite interesting. According to Hindu tradition the soul starts in the mineral kingdom - moves to the plant world where it must go through many species - then it moves to the animal kingdom to develop the mind and finally to the human level so it can become aware of itself again. The soul inside a body is continually evolving and when it has learned its lessons in this body, it moves on to the next. If a soul does bad karma in the human body or has strong attachments it will go back a level or two. Apparently we should be careful of how attached we become to our pets. Does that mean I am coming back in my next life as Mrs. Softers or Little Boots? I always thought a cat's life would be pretty sweet ... just joking God :)

Enter Karma Yoga, the science to free us from the painful effects of karma.
Here are a few examples of how we can burn the karma we have accummulated:
Note: 'God' can be interchanged with the word 'good'
~ Drop expectations of fruits
~ Offer fruits to God
~ Do actions/service without thoughts or expectiations - give up some comforts to help others. Mother Theresa is the prime example here.
~ Act as an instrument of God
~ All actions done to please God
~ Learn to see God in everything / person - even in times of suffering and pain this notion can help us grow
~ Appreciate the creator in the vastness of nature
~ Make pilgrimages / visit holy spots to take the benefit of the high levels of energy/vibrations
~ Learn to like that which the mind dislikes
~ Learn to burn your desires in the fire of self-control (Note to self)
~ Charity to poor/sick, monks, dead relatives
~ Pranayama exercies
~ And of course, we can also burn our karma and seeds through meditation ... the fire of wisdom.

So Karma is really about finding equilibrium again. Taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions is our duty so we can experience the freedom of the here and now. Can we truly evolve our consciousness? In this lifetime? In the next?