Monday, 23 January 2012

from Hippie Heaven to Guru Junction, Thiruvannamalai, India

They come here in pain.  Seeking relief.  Seeking truth.  Seeking something they suspect exists but cannot name; something they once glimpsed out of the corner of their eyes on one bright spring day.

For some the pain is emotional.  Pain from the past that has fouled their vision like a polluted pond.  For some the pain is mental.  A stabbing diatribe like a sharp stone in your shoe on a never-ending hike up a steep mountain.  For some it's grief or loss.  For others it's the pain of inadequacy.

Some feel lost.  All are searching for a path to the light.

"I just woke up one day and nothing made sense anymore.  All the things I'd worked for.  The things I'd accumulated.  Suddenly none of it meant anything to me.  I just felt empty." A healthy-looking, gray-haired man of about sixty tells the two people sharing the table at the German Bakery.

The "German Bakery" is run by Tibetans.  You walk up one flight of stairs, take off your shoes, and enter to the sounds of gentle Indian music.  One song - one chant repeated to the end of the song.  All the customers sit in multi-colored plastic chairs facing the "holy" mountain.  Mount Arunachala. The mountain outside Thiruvannamalai where Ramana Maharshi sat meditating in a cave for seventeen years.  Needless to say, when he finally exited, he had rid himself of all the excess mental and emotional garbage most mortals carry around with them.  He was "enlightened."

People come to the German Bakery for their fruit salads, mueslis, or whole grain toast and herbal tea before they set off to "Satsang."  "Satsang" is the practice of sitting with a teacher or "guru" as individuals come forward to ask questions and receive clues to wake them out of their dark slumbers.

I come curious.  I come open.  I come skeptical but interested.  After all, life is about new and different experiences.  Isn't it?

Mooji enters the silent hall.  Four hundred seekers sit cross-legged on the floor.  He takes the chair on the stage.  He is short and squat.  Caribbean with massive dreadlocks pulled into a mound at the back of his head, a few straggler dreads hanging down his back, a salt and pepper beard and mustache and an unflappable demeanor.

He wraps his microphone around his head, adjust it and looks out into the crowd.  When he makes eye contact he bursts into a smile that starts in his eyes and radiates to his lips.  He has a contagious chuckle.  Within seconds I find myself totally loving this guy.

"I am all the time suffering pain," one Russian man tells Mooji when he comes forward to the stage.
"I don't feel like I belong anywhere," a German woman shares.
"I reach moments  where I experience the "now" but then I'm back in my thoughts," an Australian man says.

Unpretentious, a great story-teller, with a great sense of humor and no-nonsense words that strike the bull's eye of human existence, Mooji looks at the person sharing with total acceptance and love.  He asks questions  that lead them on a path of discovery.  He invites them to let go of the thoughts that keep them prisoners.  He provokes each to a greater experience of expanded consciousness.

There is no fee for sitting "Satsang."  Mooji asks for nothing.  I f you like you can purchase a book or CD when you leave. Nobody tries to sell you anything.  No one tries to convince you of anything.  Mooji simply invites you to partake of the freedom of higher consciousness.

Mooji isn't the only one, although he's the main attraction.  There's also Unmani, a woman who cuts through people's ego like a Samaurai warrier.  There's Vanna from Switzerland.  Lisa from Australia.  Shanti and Cesar.  All hold satsang sessions.  Some twice a day.

The town is a veritable smorgasbord of spiritual teachers.  In every cafe, every restaurant, every chai shop--the conversation focuses on "enlightenment."

At first I felt irritated.  Non-conformist that I am, I wanted to don a black leather jacket, a studded dog collar and talk about sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.  But after 10 - 12:30 satsang with Mooji I beam at the people around me and almost skip out of the hall and along the field on my way to meet two friends for a lunch of thalis cooked and served in an Indian woman's home. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

to and from the town of Gokarna

On the road to town jungle blossoms honey the air with their jungle perfume.  A sun-blackened, twig-thin man carries a load of groceries on his head hauling them from town to one of the beach cafes.  As he paces steadily uphill with his load, his eyes go to my face as I pick my way downhill over the rocks. "Hello Momma!" He beams a smile at me.  And I beam back.

In Gokarna town, The Shree Shakti Restaurant is full.  At one table a single man sits.  Opposite him there is an empty space.  "May I sit?" I ask.  "Avec plaisir," he responds.
Seated, I take in this person as he eats his masala dosa.
A pale pink Puma cap, delicate pearl and garnet earrings, a brazenly red bra--straps and bodice top peek-a-booing from under a hot pink stretch tank top, Rory, as he introduces himself, is a transvestite.
His midriff is bare.  A tight, short, peach-colored skirt reveals a pair of long hairless legs.  Purple bracelet on one wrist, imitation pearls around the other.
"I'm from Ireland," he says.  "And I'm a transvestite, in case you haven't noticed."
Rory's eyes are pale blue and smiling.  His black hair curls around the edges of his Puma cap.  Behind his left ear a slightly faded fragipani flower wilts.  Tucked into the center of his/her nominal bosum, a pale pink rose blossoms out of his flaming red bra.
"Fragipani is my favorite scent," I say.
"Here you go my dear," he says. He hands me a second blossom lying on the table.
"I love Thailand most, he says.  "They're so comfortable with lady boys there.  And the lady boys are so feminine and lovely.  Often if I just go up to one she'll take me under her wing.  I just love it."
Rory is maybe forty years old with a think Irish accent.
We sit opposite each other, eat our dosa and pass the afternoon.

Pacing myself as I carefully choose my steps in the loose rock on my way back down to the beach, a group of 8 Indian men pass me.  the last cavorts in what looks like Monty Python's "Bureau of Silly Walks" antics.
"Special jogging I do," he tells me laughing.  I start to laugh too.  He exaggerates his already bizarre jog, laughs some more and catches up to his group. 

I continue down to the beach to catch sunset.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Kudle Beach,Gokarna, Karnataka,India

Hippie Heaven
Maybe it was the three hour conversation last night. 
The electricity out for an hour I asked to sit opposite the man reading under the single, energy-saver lightbulb fueled by a small generator.  He graciously motioned for me to share the light.
His hair cascaded down past his shoulders.  Shirtless, his well-muscled body gleamed like well-polished mahogany.  The scent of coconut oil wafted off his skin.
Italian, from Northern Italy, he told me he's been coming to India for thirty years.  "Every year learning more lessons.".
"Nobody taught me," he said leaning forward across the table, brushing his hair off his face with his fingers,"I was carrying a stone.  And it was only me that could remove it so I could be free."
Without even knowing one another's names we launched into communication without barriers.  Intimate, deep, passionate.

Maybe it's the place: a cove in the Arabian Sea.  Blue sea.  Clean, silky sand.  A beach fringed by palms and jungle.  Not a single beach chair or umbrella in sight.  Only a couple handful of people strolling along or lying on Indian sarongs.

Maybe it's the people: hippies--old, young, neo-hippies, rasta hippies.  Bare-naked babies.  Bare-chested men in Ali Baba pants or with saffron sarongs draped around their waists.  Hair in top knots.  Old men with white beards and flowing white hair.  Girls and women in long flowing Indian fabric skirts, tank tops, amulates, beads, shawls wrapped around their shoulders or hips or turban-like around their heads.  Bangles and ankle bracelets and bells.

Maybe it's getting up, sipping masala chai while gazing at the sea.  Listening to the waves breaking on the shore.  Doing my exercsies and yoga on the beach.  (All along the beach people do yoga or tai chi or mediate.)

But whatever the reason--I am electrified.

I traveled here - to Gokarna - by four local buses and one rickshaw.  My taveling companions a young neo-hippy couple from Amsterdam. Squatters.  Yop - a part-time social worker involved with incarcerated prisoners.  Wies - an after-school art teacher who wants to write a children's book.  She could easily grace the cover of any beauty magazine.  Yop is blue-eyed with a mane of twisting writhing curls. Both sweet gentle spirits who invited me to join them.

We were the only non-Indians on all four buses.  Yop shared his bag of cookies with all the passengers and everyone smiled with delight.

I sit at the "Look Sea Cafe" next to my room.  A small stream separates us from the rest of the beach.  I sip ginger honey lemon tea.  Watch the slow procession of people walk the beach - each one a testament to individuality and originality in dress and hair design.  All of them happy, relaxed, beaming good health and joy.

From the far side of the beach comes a procession of nine India women carrying cardboard boxes on their heads.  As they get closer I can see that the cartons contain bottles of drinking water.

This beach exists out of time.  Out of place.  This is not India.  This is not 2012.  It's a spot on earth filled with smiling people with radiant eyes saying "Hello," or "Nameste." Co-existing like people from a utopian fantasy.  From Italy, Amsterdam, Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, Israel, England, and America.  At sunset they gather on the beach.  Watch the sun turn into a glowing crimson globe.  The sky streaked with yellow,  gold,         vermillion, scarlet, purple.  And when the sun finally sinks into the sea they all cheer and clap.  Here none of life's daily miracles is taken for granted. Then we form a circle.  Dig a hole in the middle.  Place a candle and light it.  Musicians play drums and flutes and guitars and violins while I dance before the dancing sea.