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Travelogue: India 2001

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5 January 2001
Hi dear friend,
Had a great time in the Bay Area, visiting friends and chanting at the ashram, which really did feel like a spiritual home.
Greetings from Singapore airport, where I have a 4-hour layover before the flight to Delhi. The worst of the flight is behind me: the nearly 14 hours from SFO to Hong Kong sitting up all night in those tiny seats. I took some homeopathic sleep remedy and jet-leg remedy, and am surprised how well rested I feel. Next is a 5-hour leg to Delhi, a hotel overnight, and an early 8-hour train to Allahabad.
Have been reading a book about sadhus, and am totally psyched about being among them at their “convention.” Will I shave my head and take vows? Stay tuned . . .
19 January 2001

Warm greetings from Varanasi [aka Banares], India.
Wow!!! What an amazing trip so far. Getting here took 2 1/2 days: 3 flights SFO-Hong Kong, then Singapore, then Delhi, then an overnight stay and 10 hours by train, then one last slow hour by bus to and through Allahabad, where so many million pilgrims are converging [one estimate is now at 80,000,000!]
There is no way to describe this land of contrasts. The cities are incredibly crowded; the streets are clogged with trucks, busses, cows, motorcycles, rickshaws, and many, many bicycles all weaving an astounding dance with horns blaring and fumes spewing. The poverty is truly grinding and gritty. The pollution in the cities is choking.
The countryside is tranquil and green; it feels outside time. At the Mela, the millions are astoundingly orderly and clean. The authorities have prepared well. The miles and miles of sand along the banks of the Ganges [here universally called Gangama, literally Mother Ganga], which are annually flooded during the summer monsoons, are carefully divided into “streets” and camps, with water, electricity, and latrines dug into the riverbed.
As I had hoped and expected, the soul of India is everywhere apparent. The immigration officer saw that my destination was Allahabad; he lit up, smiled: “Mela? Ah it is such a holy place!” The people are kind, open, gentle and sweet beyond words.
My words must be brief, as our tour is about to go on. I am both tired and exhilarated by this intense experience. I am remembering each of you with much love. Your devoted,


31 January 2001

My heart is warmed by the messages of concern and well-wishing I am receiving. I am far enough away from the quake, that the only shocks I am experiencing are emotional: what a terrible tragedy. I am very saddened that there is so much suffering. From what I am seeing of Indian cities, there is already incredible crowding and poverty. Such added misery is inconceivable, unimaginable! We can only pray for those who have lost everything; many had so little before.

I left Allahabad and struck out on my own on Jan 30; the “real adventure” begins. It has been wonderful and essential to have had someone to “hold my hand” for my first few weeks in this intesely different culture. Even though I do now feel ready to strike out on my own, it is still stressful. My life in Canada the last decade has increasingly been a quiet and contemplative one. India [the land that invented meditation and yoga] is the noisiest place I’ve ever experienced. It seems that every day is some sort of festival. Here in Varanasi, loud music has been blasting from public speakers throughout the city from before dawn till late at night. [To sleep last night, I needed to keep the windows closed and wear ear plugs!] In addition to the bewildering mix of traffic, there are men eager to sell their good or services in an amazingly aggressive way: one is never left alone to walk in peace. It is so strange to be so visible: being taller by a foot than the average Indian,  and white, I really stick out. Also I am treated like a combination millionaire/celebrity. Most are truly friendly; too many are eager for money. It’s fascinating and tiring. I am painfully aware of my privilege as a white, middle-class male from North America. I feel torn between a desire to be generous and a need to not feel taken advantage of. So I feel a lot of push and pull. I will need to find quiet refuges away from cities as often as possible.

The 3-week retreat went generally very well. We were comfortably housed in large 4-person tents, which had a central sleeping room about 10′ square and 8′ high, with 2 vestibules where we kept out gear. Cots, mats and pillows were provided; we used out own sleeping bags. Though I prefer a cool sleeping environment, many were dismayed to be without cental heat. While the afternoons were in delightfully sunny 70s, the nights quickly cooled to about 40. Almost all of us caught colds, and there were a couple of cases of pneumonia. The camp was quite luxurious compared to everything else at the Mela. We had “Western” flush toilets [Indians favor a squatting position], which could not handle TP. We were encouraged to adopt the India style of hygiene: use water to wipe with the left hand, then dry with a special towel kept just for that purpose by each of us. The “showers” were also Indian style: a bucket [hot water was available a few hours each day during the warm afternoons] and a small plastic pitcher were used to pour water on ourselves to shampoo and wash. I was amazed to learn I could easily complete a whole “shower” with about one or two gallons of water: another reminder of how extravagant my usual long showers are at home. (From what I have seen so far in my travels, most Indians do not have indoor plumbing. They draw water at a well or river and carry the buckets on their heads. They either use a pit toilet or the nearest field or ditch. In the cities, there are open gutters which men unabashedly use as urinals [often in a squat]; women must have bigger bladders or more modesty, as they are rarely seen releiving themselves.)
I have long suspected I could eat Indian food every day, and that is proving true. Our meals were prompt, simple and satisfying. Now that I am on my own, I have no desire to seek out Western restaurants. Am loving the cuisine, especially the “masala chai,” spicey black tea in sweet milk.

I addition to our regular staff of teachers of yoga and tantra, we had several visiting swamis and gurus. To my surprise, we had a couple of big-name guests, including Andrew Weil, the famous American guru of holistic health, and the Dalai Lama, who gave an impassioned plea for the “brotherhood” of Buddhism and Hinduism, and the responsibility of all faiths to promote harmony and end divisiveness. Overall, it was a great luxury to be immersed in yoga and meditation in such a spiritually charged atmosphere. Our camp was located a couple of miles from the main Mela site, but there were camps of other groups very nearby. The loud-speakers were everywhere and at all hours: prayers and chants and lectures were wafting through the air creating a mesmerizing and joyously uplifting din.

So this next month’s experience I am creating as I go along. Went to the train station today to make some reservation, which took 2 1/2 hours in the “special express line” available only to foreign travellers. For Indians, who were camping on the station floor, the process obviously takes much longer. On Feb 3, I’ll take a 28-hour overnight ride in a “sleeper” for $US40 to Bombay. From there I’ll do a couple of 3-hour trips to Ganeshpuri and Pune to the ashrams of Muktananda/Gurumayi and Osho Rajneesh [the latter is knows as the “Club Med of the spiritual world.”] The next leg, on the 15th, will be another overnight to Rishikesh, which is full of ashmans and gurus I plan to simply explore. It should be peaceful there. If I feel up for more travel, I may go to Agra to see the Taj, and spend a few days in Delhi before returning on Feb 28 [arriving Vancouver March 1].

I am excited about this opportunity for both outer and inner exploration. I expect to know myself much more deeply in the process of encountering this culture, which is so rich spiritually. I certainly am getting to see the symbolism of the lotus: a beautiful flower emerging from the mud. I’m being forced to deal with stresses I never encounter in my sheltered life at home: learning what life is like for the vast majority of our human family. Yet I am very much an observer looking from the comforts of my “wealth.” My hotel (which is mediocre, about like a Motel 6) costs only $US 7/night; room-service meals are delicious @ about $3 each. This is astronomically luxurious by local standards. My rickshaw driver had waited 4 hours for a fare and charged me 50 cents for a 15-minute ride, bicycling thought unimaginable traffic. [I met a guy from Mexico City on line at the train station who said India is a lot like Mexico, except it is more crowded, busy, and polluted!]

I continue to keep you in my prayers, and ask you to do the same for me. Love,

9 February

Am still in Varanasi; it intrigues me. Am beginning to feel more at ease here, to know my way around [none of the street signs are in English!], and to realize to it takes a while to experience someplace in any depth. This ancient city clearly has lots of depth worth exploring, so I have rescheduled my departure twice, staying a total of 11 nights.

This computer is in a small office of a small guest house on a small lane [10 feet wide]in the old part of the city where most of the original streets are that size. A couple of doors away is a small temple [one of hundreds scattered everywhere] being washed down by a stooped woman with a hose and broom. A little further in each direction, a cow and a water buffalo sprawl across the lane. The juxtaposition of this timeless scene with being online communicating with you on the other side of the globe is mind-boggling! This office is also a public phone, as few have their own [unless it’s a cellular].

I have met a young guide here who is helping me find some interesting places and make sense of the culture; he’s a great resource. He helped find a modest guest house right on the river at the “burning ghats” [the steps down to the river where cremations are conducted day and night]. My rent has gone down from $7 to $3.50 per night, which helps, and the whole scene here is incredibly colourful. The sounds of life [and death] here never stop. While I napped recently [nursing a nasty cold], the sounds were of babies and kids, cows and goats, adults in animated conversation in the crowded streets, regular chanting as pall-bearers carry bodies to the ghats loudly and enthusiastically (almost joyously) chanting the names of God.

The atmosphere here is so rich on every level, I was pondering how to convey even a tiny bit of it to you. I just got a message from my dear soul-sister, Megan, from Ontario, who spent over a year living in the villages of India in the early 90s. She speaks so eloquently:
“I am living vicariously through you, I have missed India every single day since I left her shores. Be fully absorbed in each and every moment Sequoia, allow India to enter your pores, eyes, ears, nose and blood.  There is so much that is absorbed that cannot be spoken of in words or understood by our minds, there is an energy, a rhythm, an intelligence, a knowing that permeates everything and that can only be caught in brief glimpses, in fleeting sights, sounds and impressions.  More then you know will be revealed to you with distance and time.  Do not try to understand, but be open, receptive,
non-judging, follow where you are led, accept everything that happens because there is purpose to everything.  Release your soul, allow it to shine through your eyes and be fully awakened.  India is the safest place to do this. It is the land of the soul.”

Life here is so full and in-your-face that I alternate between being enthralled and being ready to jump on the next plane home! (Actually the delight far outweighs the distress.)

There is a Sanskrit word, “darshan,” which literally means “to see.” It is most often used to describe the experience of being in the physical presence of a great being, guru or saint. The teaching comes from that direct contact, as though by osmosis. It is considered essential for real spiritual learning to happen: books and theories are woefully inadequate; one must see an example of the spirit in a living being. I feel like I am having the darshan of India herself. As Megan said, this is the land of spirit, which comes shining through all the poverty and grime. It is most apparent in people’s eyes. There is a light, a kindness, a gentleness, which is disarming.

This is especially surprising, and delightful, coming from men; (in fact, it is mostly from men, as it would be improper for women to be that intimate with a strange man on the street.) But the men are amazing! There is no trace of homophobia here; quite the contrary. I have never seen a culture where men are so openly loving with each other. The genders live quite separately, except in marriage. So in public, most often, women are with women, and men with men. Because of the density of the population in the cities, the sense of “personal space” is almost non-existent: people expect to be close. Men are especially affectionate with one another. In twos or threes they will very often walk hand-in-hand, or with arms around each other. In the public festivals [there’s another one tonight for the full moon], men do all the dancing. Is has nothing to do with romance or sex; it is a joyous affirmation of life and spirit. Also, to my delight, it has nothing to do with substances: there is no evidence of alcohol or other drugs. People party on the natural high of spiritual devotion, chanting the names of God: the real “ecstasy.”  When walking down the street, I keep being amazed to share a moment of deep soulful contact with men, of a quality I would ordinarily only hope for with a lover. So I feel like I am making love all day! I can’t tell you how much that nourishes my soul.

Back in mid-January, after our tour brought us to Varanasi the first time for a couple of nights, several of us struck off on our own for Khajuraho, the site of the famous “erotic temples,” festooned with voluptuous carvings beautifully depicting the spirit of the Kama Sutra, which expresses the fundamental connection between the erotic and the spiritual. The journey itself was priceless, (and an ordeal). Overland travel in India is utterly unlike anything in the First World. The roads, though “paved” most of the way, were very rough and narrow, with frequent potholes and debris. The paved portion is barely wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass. The custom is to drive in the center and then swerve off onto the shoulder at the last possible moment to avoid head-on collision! The roads are full vehicles of different sizes and speeds. Pedestrians generally stay on the shoulders, while the many bikes use the pavement until forced off. Animals of all sorts wander along: sometimes whole herds of cattle, buffalo, camels or goats! There are carts drawn by oxen, many tractors, as well as busses and trucks. The rarest vehicle is the automobile: few can afford them. We felt like we were making good time when we averaged 40 kph [25 mph]!  After nine tiring hours, we were still several hours from Khajuraho at sunset, so we stopped for the night rather than risk navigating all those hazards in the dark. The next morning’s drive was more scenic, with winding mountain roads and some beautiful monkeys and peacocks. This chance to see rural and village life in India was precious; it is truly outside time, and while poor by our standards, looks very wholesome and rich in people’s relationship to each other, to the earth, and to God [there are temples at every roadside stop where people take a moment to bow their heads]. An example of darshan was witnessing our driver, who struck me as a young Buddha. Sitting behind him, I could always see his eyes in the mirror; no matter how hair-raising the driving seemed to me, his eyes were utterly serene. I was amazed and inspired.

Khajuraho was worth the effort. The main temples are preserved in a lovely park, which is beautifully landscaped and feels like an oasis. I enjoyed a couple of hours of solitude there: the first I had had in a couple of weeks. While these temples are splendid representations of the spirituality of the region one millennium ago, there was an equally old temple just outside the park which is still in use. Inside there is a nine-foot high Shiva lingam, which is worshipped every morning and evening, as it has been for over a thousand years. It was very moving to be part of a tradition, which has remained intact for so long. There was much ringing of bells and chanting in Hindi; then the worshippers would bow to the lingam or fully embrace it. I got quite a hit of energy from embracing that lingam; it felt very powerful!

I am intrigued by the gender roles here, which are quite traditional. As I mentioned, the genders mostly relate with their own, except at home. In the street one sees 90% men, and they are quite masculine and handsome, without machismo armouring or posturing as is common in the West; they are very open and sweet, both with each other and with me. The women stay to themselves in small groups, and are invariably dressed in beautiful saris. I had a mistaken idea that the sari, like the kimono, is a ceremonial vestige of another era. In truth, they wear them even working in the fields or on road gangs. On our trip, I was amazed to see beautifully clad women gracefully carrying large rocks on their heads as part of some roadwork. It is also common to see them carrying a baby on one arm and a large parcel or pot on their head: the picture of timeless grace and dignity.

Am also struck by how much life is lived in public view. Because it is a warm climate, people’s shelters are minimal, and much happens outdoors. Here on Gangama, people bathe and do their wash in timeless ways. Varanasi is believed by all Hindus to be the most auspicious place to die, or at least to be cremated. By my hotel, there is a regular stream of bodies carried by family/friends with loud chanting. Together they build the pyre, say prayers and watch as the loved one returns to ash. It is all in public. And Indian weddings make Mexican ones look subdued! Last Friday evening (the traditional time), as I took a rickshaw across town, I passed four separate wedding parades, complete with “Music Man” style brass bands, and elaborately gaudy electric head-dress on many of the revellers (like crystal chandeliers or four long fluorescent tubes pointing skyward) all powered by a generator on a hand-drawn cart and connected by wires with the partiers. The couples were in gilded chariots beautifully dressed as Maharajas: a sense of total delight!

When I first heard about the cremation grounds here, I felt like I wanted to experience them, to contemplate life and death. So it’s great that I’ve ended up in a hotel immediately next to them. At sunset a few nights ago, I stood watching the activities on the riverbank. A statuesque young man was doing his ritual bathing and clothes washing while dressed in a loincloth; he was the picture of youthful vitality and beauty. A few meters downstream, several cremations were in varying stages. Some pyres were just being built, corpses were arriving, people were praying and chanting. In one fire, which was well underway, I saw an arm reaching out (the only recognizable body part I ever saw, as the corpses are usually wrapped before the fires are lit); I watched it gradually morph into just another log in the fire. The obvious lesson: what a brief time it will be before that beautiful youth takes his turn on the fire, as countless generations have done before (and how much sooner my own turn will come!)

One of my interests in attending the Kumbha Mela was to have the darshan of the many “sadhus.” I had heard that these “holy men” are renunciates who ordinarily wander in solitude with few or no possessions (some are totally naked) or live in remote areas in small groups; the Melas are a “convention” for them and a time when they allow themselves to be seen for the benefit of others. At the Mela, the crowding made it difficult to have more than a brief look at them. Here in Varanasi, many have now come and are camping along the riverbank ghats near my hotel. To my disappointment, I do not find them appealing. Most are totally stoned day and night on hashish, which is a very traditional part of their practice, but to me seems antithetical with true spirituality. I walked among them at 5 one morning: instead of being in deep mediation they were mostly coughing and wheezing from all smoke they inhale directly or from their ritual campfires. They are eager for Westerners to share their pipe or take their picture (for a price). My local guide and my hotel host both have a low opinion of these sadhus: the real ones are not so accessible, and these ones are just drop-outs living on handouts. As with every culture, there are good babas and bad babas. The good ones are harder to find. [“Baba” literally means father, and is used as an affection and respectful term for holymen, just as we refer to clergy in the west.]

That, and my general experience in India so far, is giving me a greater appreciation for my Baba Muktananda, who brought a very clear and simple distillation of Indian spirituality to the West in the 70s and 80s. As I navigate the confusing labyrinth here, I feel like I already have a deep understanding of its essence from Baba’s teachings. Tomorrow I will travel overnight by train to Ganeshpuri, where he is buried. His ashram and and that of his guru, Nityananda, are there. I hope to have a reconnection with their “shakti” (spiritual energy).

One of my big fears about coming here was my health; I’m doing better than feared. I did come down with a cold three weeks ago when I first came to Varanasi, probably triggered in part by the intense pollution. It has lingered too long, so yesterday I had a doctor come to my hotel. He was very genial and unhurried: a quality of the Indian temperament I find quite charming [as long as I am not in a hurry, which would be a major mistake here]. He also thought it was caused or worsened by the pollution [he also has a chronic cough] and prescribed some Ayurvedic and allopathic remedies, and propositioned me about becoming business partners in Vancouver. I am getting the feeling that nearly everyone sees us North Americans as potentially their financial saviours; some want a few rupees, some want my business, and now an offer of business partnership! He was very caring and only charged $US6 for his hour-long house call—so different from back home. I survived my first week of eating in Indian restaurants with no GI distress at all, but Wednesday my lunch (eaten in the cleanest, most Western-looking restaurant of the whole week) did not sit well. By dinner time, I was too weak and queasy to eat, and went to bed. By midnight, the lunch came back up; I immediately felt relieved. Yesterday, I needed to sleep till noon, and have felt fine since then. So, as I suspected, eating healthily here is a “crap shoot.” So far I’m not doing too badly. Will continue being as careful as possible and hope for the best.

So tomorrow I’m off for a new chapter in “the darshan of India.” I may be out of e-mail contact, as Ganeshpuri is a small village. I will certainly continue to keep you in my heart and prayers. And I am so grateful for the messages I am receiving; they provide an important connection with that whole other reality which is my life back home. Thank you again for your loving support.


18 February 2001

Headlines: all is well as my travels take me to Ganeshpuri and Pune.
Weather report [some of you may be envious]: have not seen a drop of rain, and very few clouds, in my 6 weeks in India. The “winter” weather in Allahabad did get nippy at night [40F] which felt damply penetrating since we had only canvas walls, but the days were sunny and 60s. Now that it’s “spring” and I’m further west and south, it’s quite warm for me: upper 80s by day cooling to mid 60s at night [i.e. warmer than Vancouver summers]. Am soaking it up.
Health report: no further GI upsets since that “lost lunch” 10 days ago [keeping fingers crossed]; respiratory system gradually improving, thanks to the Ayurveda and considerably better air here.
The details: The train ride from Varanasi went very well once I actually got on the train. I miscalculated the time needed to get to the station [traffic was even more appalling than usual], and literally stepped onto the train as it was beginning to pull out! I had reserved the best class available, which was “2nd Air Conditioned” which meant I shared a compartment with several other people, each having our own berth. It was a great opportunity to get an inside look at Indian family life, which is the essence of Indian culture. Over the course of the trip, I shared a space with 2 different families. In both cases, 3 generations were travelling together and deeply involved in sharing food that they brought with them. Someone in each family spoke good enough English to inquire about my life and my experiences of India. They welcomed me into their space as they would welcome a friend into their home, and insisted on sharing their food with me. They were very warm in a way that did not feel done from any sense of obligation, but wonderfully sincere. They seemed genuinely delighted that I am enjoying their country. One 9 year old boy was especially smiley and friendly, and well spoken. He saw that I was reading a history of India, and wanted to read with me. He read aloud, quite as well as I would have at his age; we were good friends. Indian people really do LIVE “family values.” In one of the families, there were several adult sibs with their own broods scattered throughout several compartments, and constantly visiting back and forth. Their energy together was lovely, as was their devotion: at different times, I’d see/hear some quietly praying, chanting or meditating in a way that appeared totally natural and organic.

Happily, a Muktananda devotee I met in Varanasi was able to tell me about a shortcut to Ganeshpuri that involved getting off the train 90 minutes before Bombay and taking a rickshaw. I was very glad to avoid the bustle of Bombay. Ganeshpuri has been nearly mythological for me; I’ve been hearing stories about it and seeing pictures of it for 25 years. Arriving there was a bit disconcerting. The ashram was shockingly opulent compared with everything in the surrounding towns and villages, which are typically poor, crowded, and polluted. My first reaction was dismay, as it seemed out-of-place, and nearly insulting to the locals. Clearly, Baba had made lots of money in the West. The village itself is a kilometer away; while very simple, it contains a very grand temple housing the Samadhi [burial vault] of Baba’s own guru, Nityananda, who is much beloved by people of this region. This temple, though much more typically Indian [read messy] is very alive with devotion, and was financed by local devotees. They have Arati [prayers and chants done with much drumming and bell-ringing] every day at 6, 12, and 8 —very well attended by the locals, most of whom are the descendents of devotees who moved here 50 years ago to be close to their beloved guru. I doubted there is a church anywhere in Vancouver that boasts such regular and enthusiastic daily attendance. When I got past my initial aversion to Muktananda’s palatial ashram and went in, I felt right at home. I really do feel deeply connected to and blessed by his Shakti [spiritual energy]. It feels as though he digested Indian spirituality and brought its essence to the West in a form that I could assimilate. If I had come to India on my own looking for God, I would have been completely overwhelmed by what appears to my Western mind as a chaotic religion full of idolatry and superstition. Because of Baba’s own clarity, I can look at all the seeming disorder and hear his recurring refrain: “Meditate on your own Self. Bow down to your own Self. Worship your own Self. God dwells within you. See God in your own heart, then you will see God in each other.”

After several days chanting and meditating in both the temple and the ashram, I took the 90-minute rickshaw [$4] and a 3-hour train {$2.50 in Sleeper Class] to Pune to visit the infamous Osho Rajneesh ashram. You’ll remember “the Bhagawan;” the North American press had a field day with his Oregon commune full of Rolls-Royces in the 80s, which was reputed to be the scene of ecstatic orgies and pseudo-spiritual “psycho-babble.” I became interested in Osho from a safe distance back then; I found his writings about sexuality quite cogent. He’s the only teacher I have every heard say that sexuality, explored consciously, can be an excellent gateway to spirituality. One of his books is entitled, “From Sex to Super-Consciousness.” His poetically expressed perspective was quite healing of the sexual shame that I was raised with. His Pune ashram has been a Mecca for seekers for 25 years, and has become even more popular since his death in 1990. It is referred to as the “Club Med” [for Meditation] of the spiritual circuit. I couldn’t come to India without a taste of it. As with everywhere else I’ve come to in India, my first several days was spent feeling stressed and disoriented. Pune is a busy city of 2+ million and is much more modern and Western than anyplace else I have seen here, though still quite Third world in many ways. The ashram is a veritable Garden of Eden in the middle of the city. I had buttons pushed by the rules, the bureaucracy, and the uniforms. One has to have [or buy] a maroon robe for day-wear, a white robe for the evening meditation, and even a maroon bathing suit to use the [gorgeous] pool! It brought up all my issues from Catholic school and the Air Force! I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the meditative atmosphere. There are about 2,000 daily visitors, mostly from Europe. I’ve met or heard Russians, Germans, Bulgarians, French, Dutch, Italians, Israelis, Japanese, but only a couple of Americans, and no other Canadians. There are many Indians, who get a big price reduction. The daily admission price {$3, plus another $2.50 for use of the pool, gym, Jacuzzi and sauna] includes use of all the beautifully-landscaped grounds and the options to participate in any/all of the 6 daily meditations. Most of them are an hour in length, and almost all involve periods of moving, shaking, or sound-making [e.g. cathartic sounds or “gibberish”] prior to the more quiet/inward periods. Osho is quite unique in his belief that most modern people are too stress, tense, and in our heads to simply sit and be quiet: we need first to get relaxed. I appreciate his integration of the body and the emotional realm in his approach to meditation. It feels very real and holistic, whereas many of the more traditional approaches can seem a bit forced and artificial for us in the West.

One of my struggles with this month of total freedom from structure is choosing how long to spend in each place and how to spend my time there to get the most from the experience. After much inner debate, I have again opted to extend my stay here, and let go of visiting Rishikesh. The environment is very lovely, and I think I have something to learn by doing these different forms of meditation. They are all designed to help get past the conditioning of childhood and society and come to our true essence, which Osho describes [as do Buddhists]as “the void.” He says he is not out to create nuns and monks, but people who are fully, zestfully alive, conscious, and free. He coined the term, “Zorba the Buddha”, which I love. It brings together my own two ideals: to live life fully and passionately as Zorba declared {“You MUST dance!”] AND to go deeply inside to dwell in the inner bliss of Pure Consciousness. So I’ll be here till the 24th, practicing, lounging by the pool enjoying all the Zorba Buddhas, soaking up the lovely weather, and hopefully becoming more conscious in the process. After that, it’s back to Ganeshpuri, where I left my winter clothes and other extra stuff, to “Be with Baba” for 2 final days, then an overnight train from Bombay to Delhi, flying out on the 28th, and arriving home [probably very tired and very fulfilled] on March 1.

The following blessing, which is quintessentially Indian, was forwarded to me by [ironically] a friend in the U.S.  I do know that Sai Baba of Shirdi was much respected and loved as a saint by my own dear Baba Muktananda. May you be blessed!

4 March 2001

Home safe and [almost] sound. Singapore Airlines is fantastic, yet 34 hours from Delhi to Vancouver [via Singapore, Seoul, and San Francisco] is still my idea of torture. The Air Canada flight from San Francisco to here was a treat: I got to ride in the cockpit [first time I’ve been in one in 20 years!]. Ironically, after 2 months in India with only one brief bout of nausea, after lunch in SFO I began to feel queasy, and by the time I got home Thursday night, all I could do was fall into bed for 30+ hours with [mild] cramps and diarrhoea. Am recovering nicely now and ready to resume eating, although it may take a while for my system to re-acclimate to Western food.

I’ll send more details about the last phase of my Indian adventure as soon as I have time to settle into life in Vancouver. For now, suffice it to say that India fulfilled all of my hopes and few of my fears. It was a wonderful, amazing experience I will be digesting for months or years to come. Coming home feels like returning from another planet or another century: the differences are staggering, and I am experiencing culture-shock in both directions. One thing that became very clear from that distant perspective of the other side of the planet: I love my life and work in Vancouver, and am very grateful and happy to be returning.

Thank you again so very much for your loving support and encouragement. Your happy


16 march 2001

Vancouver has never looked more beautiful! When I arrived, it was pouring
rain [the first I had seen since I left]. The next several days were pure
sunshine, with spring flowers and cherry blossoms already beginning to
bloom—wow! The air is so clean, and it is unbelievably quiet. The streets
seem deserted, and everything looks amazingly tidy. The variety of food
available is staggering. I actually lost almost 15 pounds from eating so
simply for 2 months; it probably won’t take long to put it back [although I
intend to keep some of it off].

My health and energy quickly returned; I am feeling better now than most of
the time in India, where the pollution and lack of exercise often had me
feeling a bit less than prime. I really enjoyed getting back to seeing my
clients and teaching my yoga class: it was very grounding to resume my
normal life here. My friends’ warm welcome has been very comforting, indeed.

This weekend [March 10-11], I am back at my beloved Gambier Island cottage, basking in the
beauty and the silence. There were several occasions when the intensity of
India was getting to me that I would remember the serenity of this special
place in order to get me through. Now, from here, I can look back at India
from the perspective of being in another world. Certainly the most striking
difference is the population density. If I had not had the experience of
growing up in New York City, I would have been utterly unprepared to deal
with such crowding; my old instincts kicked in and helped me cope. I’ve suggested to friends
here in Vancouver to try to imagine 10 to 20 times as many people in the
existing spaces. Apartments that now house 1 or 2 would have 10. The spaces
around houses that are now beautifully landscaped would be filled with
people in tents and cardboard shelters, using open fires to keep themselves
warm. In front of the existing shops there would be rows of little wooden
stalls each with merchants selling a few things to eke out a subsistence;
most sleep there at night [again with open fires]. In amongst all this,
picture cows, goats and countless dogs wandering freely doing what they do:
eating the trash and leaving their own droppings [which people pick up and
dry for fuel]. The smell and the din is hard to describe: a very rich brew.
When I try to picture such crowding here, I also see much misery and
hostility. What amazed me over and over again in India was seeing a people
at peace with themselves and each other. There really is a “fabric” to
society there unlike any I have seen anywhere else: a people closely woven
together into an interdependent organism that seems to function and even
thrive in spite of seemingly adverse circumstances. A few people seem truly
destitute and miserable; most appear to be happy and content. They take
things slower, and spend more time “just being” with themselves and with
each other. The children were especially surprising and delightful. They
have clearly never been taught to fear strangers and adults. Both boys and
girls from early primary school through university would walk up to me on
the street to practice their English: “Where are you from? What is your
name?” and similar simple exchanges were offered with total openness and a
sweet eagerness to connect. My most lasting impression of India will forever
be the simple, heartful, soulful presence in many people’s eyes. My heart
has learned something from those many teachers, which words are inadequate
to express. I hope to live my life more simply, with my heart and soul more
open and present in each moment.

Will I go back to India? The country is so vast and varied, I would love to
explore more of it. So part of me imagines spending 4-6 weeks there nearly
every winter. Another part feels the journey to get there is so arduous and
expensive that I may be content with having gone once and fulfilled my
life’s dream. We’ll see . . .

I shot 19 rolls of film there to try to document for you the India I was
seeing. It will take a while for me to process and cull them all, then I’ll
put the best up on a web-site. If you prefer me to e-mail them to you, let
me know.

From my window here, I see not a single soul: only placid water, tranquil
green trees, and eternally snow-capped mountains. I send you serenity,
gratitude, and a heart forever touched. Your


Winter Solstice 2000

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Gambier Island, British Columbia, 3 December 2000, Sunday November and December are usually my least favourite months in B.C. The shortening, darkening days are made more dismal by dreary overcast skies and steady rain. Happily, this fall has been the driest and sunniest in my ten years here. The leaves are still turning colour and reluctant to fall, showing wonderfully warm hues in the bright light. It is being a beautiful ending to a magnificent year. I can’t remember when I have enjoyed a year more.After a torrential rain Friday night, the sky cleared yesterday. I came over to my island cottage to bask in the stillness. Last night, in spite of temperatures in the 30s, I slept on the deck in my cozy down bag. There is such magic in winter nights: the silence really does have a holy quality, as the Christmas song says. There is such clarity. This morning’s very southern sunrise shone brilliantly on the water. The cottage is warm without building a fire. This is a perfect day to reflect on life’s blessings, to feel gratitude for the love between us, across time and space.November, true to form, did bring some rain into my heart. For the past six months, I have been sharing some of the sweetest loving of my whole life with Shepherd. On Halloween, he initiated a sudden change: indicating that he wants to shift our intimate relationship to friendship. I felt very sad. It’s hard to let go of such deep sharing and connection. I let myself cry and grieve, and felt wonderful support from several of you. On the deepest level I realize loving always involves a letting-go, allowing the loved one to be free to follow their own life and destiny. I’ve been focussing on that level of my love for Shepherd, as we both learn a new way of being connected. I trust that more sweet loving will be coming my way.During the same time period, I have felt deeply touched by the loving, supportive messages I’ve been receiving about my upcoming India pilgrimage. It’s been amazing: like Christmas and my birthday rolled into one. Nearly every day for about six weeks, I’ve received a card, letter, e-mail or cheque. It’s being a very palpable reminder of how much love I am blessed to enjoy! I feel so very grateful.

Am very excited about the trip. I plan to begin my pilgrimage in Oakland, CA, at the ashram of my Baba Muktananda, where my first real initiation into the heart of yoga began in 1976. I’ll celebrate New Year’s there with an evening of traditional sacred chanting, and have a few days to visit friends. I fly out of SFO on January 4 to Singapore, Delhi, Lucknow and then by bus to Allahabad to join the teeming hoards converging on the sacred Ganges for ritual bathing on certain auspicious dates. After 3 weeks there with the tour, studying yoga and Tantra at its source, I’ll strike out on my own for up to a month. I definitely want to visit Varanasi, the holiest of Indian cities, where devout Hindus come to be cremated on the Ganges’ banks. I also hope to visit Ganeshpuri, near Bombay, where Baba is buried, as well as Pune and maybe Rishikesh. All of that will depend on my health and how well I am coping with the sensory overload that is India. I will be remembering my dear ones and carrying you in my heart, being sustained by your love and sending my own your way from these powerful places.

My very warmest wishes for your health and happiness during these winter “holidaze.” May you experience the silent, holy night in your soul, and may your heart be full of love. Your devoted, sequoia      

At the epicenter of the epidemic: San Francisco, 1987

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Teaching Yoga to People with HIV/AIDS

This article is archived at Google Books.