Sunday, February 15, 2009

AUM...Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Another long train ride brought me from the arid Thar desert to the peaceful sanctuary of Rishikesh, Uttarkhand in the lush foothills of the Himalayas, via a small layover in Delhi. Since leaving that manic mess almost a month ago, Delhi’s apparently developed into my arch nemesis as it drove me to the brink of insanity being there but a few hours; a necessary perspective perhaps, with which to elevate the status of the rest of India, I can hardly wait to return upon flying back to the states. Rishikesh, on the other hand, is, and was definitely for me, the start of something beautiful and pure, in so many ways!

For all you Beatles fans out there, Rishikesh and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is where John, Paul, George and Ringo sought spiritual enlightenment and the creative material to write much of their famous “White Album” in their trip to India. I was both intrigued, being such a die hard fan and self-admitted western tourist, and put-off, thinking this may have in-effect tarnished a previously genuine spiritual gem, by this notion. However you look at it, George was introduced to the sitar, the Beatles kicked out one the most amazing albums in rock ‘n’ roll history and I witnessed a place not the least bit blemished by the inhabitance of such world icons!

I rolled into town late, as I usually do, to be met by a small child imploring me to come to his guest house. Tired, unaware and unable to fend off his youthful charm, I followed and settled for an overpriced room without hot water. Should’ve seen that one coming! So the next day I vowed to do my once-over of the Laxman Jhula area of up-river Rishikesh in search of the most practical room for what would be at least the better part of a week’s stay. I awoke early and started the day with a run/hike up in the hills to a gorgeous waterfall plunging down into an alpine bathing ghat and a beautiful terraced village. As I ambled back downhill, I began checking out accommodation to find much better deals at much better prices and was feeling very good about myself. When I nearly made it back to my original guest house, off the main street a bit I saw Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram. I had heard a bit about Ashram life, which basically means living in a small spiritual, meditative and/or yoga community with some rules and regulations in place to maintain the unity and harmony of the operation. Meals are usually eaten together, chores shared and then the core exercise of inner self enhancement, whatever that may be, is practiced.

Anand Prakash, as I learned, was chiefly a yoga ashram, that immediately caught my eye. Set away from the main street, it’s set on a hillside just up from the geographical focal point of Rishikesh, and the life giving artery of spiritual India, The Ganga (Ganges) River. It was a new establishment, built in 2007, which distinguished it against its nearby worn counterparts. It was a lovely property with a lawn in the front and garden area out back that was meticulously cared for. After I was taken on a brief tour and explained the rules and procedures, I was sold…100%. Some of the details went like this; Akhanda Yoga (a holistic, non-sectarian and very diverse version) practiced, a silent period of 9 pm to 9 am to be observed (including breakfast to ensure maximum peace for meditation and reflection within the community), 3 Sattvic vegetarian meals served daily, in by 9:30 at night and an extensive recycling program. Oh yeah, and the gender ratio just happened to be about 40:2, girls to guys, I being one of the 2 guys. This didn’t hurt! And so I was up 5:30 the next morning to start the daily routine seen here. The whole operation was a bit intimidating at first, as my only experience in yoga was a video tape my parents had back home and a few classes offered at the hospital in Delhi with overweight, middle-aged folks to make me feel better about my skills. As carefree as it sounded, attempting to silently meditate as the sun slowly rises in a dimly lit room to Indian chants, then trying to contort your body in ways it’s never before dared try, surrounded by ~40 VERY flexible women was both trying on the body and distracting to the mind.

30 of the girls here were involved in a rather intensive (much more intensive than the normal routine shown above), month-long Yoga Teachers Training course that started a week before I got there. So, as I started to get into the routine a bit and blend in the best I could and meet some of the group, it didn’t take long to really “stretch” my physical limits and settle my soul towards inner peace. But as hoaky as it sounds, the benefits were physically and mentally undeniable. It felt as though my whole existence had gone through a major de-tox and the obvious stresses that accompany India had temporarily been quelled. A sense of community is also such a nice change, anytime, but particularly when you travel. Eating with the same people every meal of the day, seeing them at their worst (5:45 am before yoga) and then their best (8:00 am breakfast after yoga), smiles of contentment while meditating or chanting and just sharing the same emotions as a group is always a good thing, I think.

I also have a few other noteworthy tidbits to share. Attempting to down-play the enviable circumstances, I tried not to think about the gender disparity and to concentrate on what I was there to obtain. But electing to seize an opportunity that just so happened to arise, there was a winner to the “Graham sweepstakes” (a.k.a. one of two available guys in the place) and I managed to find a travel partner for the last couple of weeks after volunteering and before heading back to the states, Caroline Corso from Montreal, Canada. She’s quite amazing at yoga and an even better person, so I can’t wait to spend some more time with her and get to know her better!

And finally, regarding my plans as I arrive back to the states, I scored another bellman job for the summer…this time in the great north…Alaska! I’ve long been told that I have a job waiting for me whenever I feel so inclined by numerous friends that I’m lucky to have way up there and feel that this is the perfect time. It falls between getting back home from India and before I leave for Australia for graduate school (fingers crossed, awaiting acceptance). Have I even mentioned Australia in this blog? Ah, oh well, I’m tired and this blog is finished!

But I feel compelled to end with a few centerpiece word/phrases often uttered throughout the ashram, Rishikesh the rest of the Eastern World. “Namaste” is the greeting, when meeting and departing and means that “The Divine spark in me greets the Divine spark in you”. It’s said in conjunction with putting hands together in front of the chest with a small bow. And finally, uttered after chants, yoga, before eating and any other auspicious actions, the Sanskrit symbol “AUM” (hummed simultaneously throughout one large breath) is seen and hummed/chanted EVERYWHERE in India and is a very mystical and sacred symbol. AUM is the universal name of the Lord and its three letter symbolize three states (waking, dream and deep sleep) and also the means and the goal of life, the world and the Truth behind it, and the material and the Sacred, all form and the Formless. The symbol is seen at the bottom of this blog. And “Shanti, Shanti, Shanti”, referring to “May there be peace (physical peace), peace (mental peace) and peace (spiritual peace).


britta linnea said...

Oh man! I was just in Polebridge the other day and stopped by the side of the road to write a letter, because it was so pretty outside (but much to cold to write the letter outside) and I imagined how much fun it would be to go work in Alaska. Guess the North Fork just reminds me of the uninterrupted wilderness that is Alaska...I'm thinking next summer I will perhaps have to check it out. And um, your blog is awesome.

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