Day Eighty-Two: Week of Beautiful Chaos
"Once we can see the wholeness then our inner divisions disappear; then a beautiful chaos arises – a chaos which contains the cosmos in it…a chaos out of which stars are born, Dwabha."
This quote feels like a nice place to start given the week's Christmas energy and sprinkled moments of serendipitous wholeness. I happened to find this little gem of a quote on Ramana’s website, the place where we spent Christmas Eve, an incredibly cozy time that I’ll get into more later.
Monday began with a meeting at Free Spirit Café – the first one I’ve had since my 9-5 days in New York. Unlike your conventional Western meeting chock filled with punctuality, agendas, sometimes sterile meeting rooms and ‘next steps,’ this one had much more of a Rishikesh vibe. About ten minutes after the meeting time, an orange robe wearing middle aged woman with a bulbous bun sitting atop her head and bindi on her third eye came running in, apologetic yet exuding “shanti” or calm as Indians say. Meet Deja Cross, creator of Rishikesh Art & Film Festival, the first of its kind debuting in March of 2017. The meeting was set up for me to learn more about how I can get involved with the festival during my time here.
A bit about Deja – originally from Long Island, she’s lived a very full life in the Western sense, having ticked off the boxes of a business career, two marriages, a ten year relationship and one child who’s now in his early 20s. Later on in life, she decided to come to India in search of a higher path, which led her to both take up photography shooting mostly sadhus and babas and renounce all her worldly possessions in pursuit of a spiritual ‘sadhana’ or practice. It was her Guru-Ji whose spirit most moved her and called her in this direction.
Mind you, I learned all this within minutes of our meeting. Before we had time to settle and open up the menu, Deja was on a call saying something to the effect of “I’m in a meeting, but if this is the only time Guru-Ji can meet, then I’ll come.” And just like that, I was on the back of Deja’s scooter heading up the mountain to go see her Guru who had come into town unannounced from his place of residence, a dark mountain cave not too far from Rishikesh. Naturally.
After a short scooter ride uphill through the tiniest of bumpy alleys, we arrived. We walked into the small slightly messy apartment of Deja’s colleague, also the Festival’s Executive Director, who was fumbling around in a beige cotton blazer attempting to make masala chai for the ‘meeting’ we were about to have with Guru-Ji. No lie, I was intrigued but also completely clueless about what was coming.
We stepped out into the sun soaked balcony surrounded by lush mountain trees and there he was in the flesh, Guru-Ji, Deja’s baba from the dark caves. Nestled in the corner of the balcony wearing all orange and a massive turban holding up supposedly heavy dreadlocks, Guru-Ji was sitting comfortably smoking a cigarette and staring off into the distance. He looked either high or enlightened (or both), not sure which one it was, but he definitely had the face of someone living in a higher vibration on some other level of consciousness. Upon seeing him, Deja knelt on the pillows and bowed down while holding his hands with both of hers. I awkwardly followed her lead and held my hands in Namaste hoping for my next cue to come.
Deja’s colleague brought out the masala chai and sweets one by one, which Guru-Ji held in his hands with eyes closed and then handed to me. You can imagine the fear running through my head and stomach given all my experiences around food. Deja assured me that all food from Guru-Ji was blessed, and it was polite to receive them. I decided it was best to go with the flow and give myself completely to this moment, which was both bizarre and beautiful simultaneously.
The ‘beautiful chaos’ was taking shape.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully know what happened during that meeting. Deja doesn’t speak much Hindi and Guru-Ji speaks very little English, so much of what they exchanged was either nonverbal or through the translation of Deja’s India colleague. Many cigarettes were rolled, receipts passed around, and words of Hin-glish exchanged. Apparently, Guru-Ji was one of Deja’s first financial sponsors of the festival and comes along to all of Deja’s sponsorship meetings. She is also one of his first female disciples and despite the language barrier; they ‘talk’ on the phone each night before bedtime.
“They never say no when Guru-Ji is around,” she said with a big smile, referring to the meetings she brings him to. I left much more curious than when I got there, that’s for sure. The whole experience reminded me that not all connections need to be based on words or verbal exchanges. So much of our experience as human beings can’t be understood in that way, though our egoic mind would like to think so, I think.
That brings me to another big revelation this week around mind-bodyness. I’ve been religiously taking Prashant’s ashtanga yoga class each morning and experiencing the infinite strength and possibility of my physical and mental body more than ever. One of the philosophical tenets of the practice teaches us that each asana or posture must be developed fully before moving onto the next, as they’re all interconnected and must be learned in a particular sequence for that reason. It makes me think back to a quote I saw scribbled on the walls of the Beatles ashram, “There are no shortcuts to evolution.” This couldn’t be truer on both the macro and also the micro of how our bodies evolve through yoga.
Let’s take mountain pose (or downward doggy depending on what part of the world you’re in), for example. You can’t imagine how many aspects of your body and mind are active. As you scan your body from top to bottom, there are endless aspects of alignment to consider – Are the centers of your palm completely rooted in the ground? Are your middle fingers pointed upward and thumbs pointing towards each other to ground the palms? Are your elbow faces pointing to the ceiling to enable your shoulders to turn outward, spread your chest and open up the compressions within the spine? Are you feeling the weight evenly on both your upper and lower body as your stretch in both directions? Are you pulling your lumbar spine upward and back allowing your legs to ground the lower body? How about those back knees, which ordinary humans are barely stretching? Is your big toe rooted in the ground and stretching those hamstrings and back knees? And that’s not even covering the ujai breathing which relies heavily on expanding the belly through the inhale to enable a deeper exhale through the throat -- all in the service of building heat in the solar plexus and more energy for the body overall. That’s just ONE posture within ONE asana of 84 in the total sequence!
All that to say, it’s hard – really hard (at first), especially when realizing there’s so much more to a posture than you’ve learned in the last six years. I would be lying if I said I’ve even gotten close to mastering mountain pose despite the fact that it comes first in the sequence during Sun Salutation A. However, with some serious hustling, sweat and maybe some tears, I’ve managed to power my way through day in and day out, releasing my mind chattering ego a little each time.
Only a few days of practicing allowed for the breakthrough of the week: FOUR handstands in one morning! Up until that point, I had been holding onto tremendous fear of not being able to support myself upside down with only a wall to hold me up. For someone who’s had scoliosis and worn a back brace for a year and a half, the fear was real. But in that moment of receiving Wylie’s ‘you have no choice’ while hoisting myself up with the subtlest breathing and body alignment, I was upside down and feeling the fullness of my power, albeit clumsy and shaky. In place of division, I found possibility within my own body’s intelligence.
More ‘beautiful chaos’ was taking shape. And it continued right on through to Christmas Eve.
We knew weeks in advance that we’d be at Ramana’s for Christmas Eve, but the experience itself far exceeded what my mind could ever know. I headed over early to copy a friend’s movies onto my hard drive (free movies = best Christmas gift ever in wifi-less India), and arrived at the coziest Christmas nesting spot. Imagine a room decked out with stone covered walls with x-mas lights dancing across the walls with tiny white candles tucked in and around picture frames of spiritual teachers like Amma and Osho. Christmas drawings adorn the walls while fresh flower garlands drape against tiny frames of Hindu gods and goddesses.
The crowd piled in within the hour, and the gathering came alive. Our table was especially colorful, hailing a woman from Latvia (a freelancer also designing for the Art & Film Fest), a lady from Costa Rica (who we later found out will be our future classmate at yoga teacher training), a couple from Costa Rica (one of the guys would later perform a fire show), and an older man in white who kind of resembled Santa Claus. The universe had me sitting next to the Santa Claus man who really liked to hear his own voice, if you catch my drift. While his nonstop chatter did eventually hit a nerve, I decided to surrender to all that Christmas Eve had in store for me. And guess where he’s originally from? Yep, New York – just my luck :)
A spiritual teacher whose been around the block having lived in Rishikesh on and off since 1979, this man seemed to know a thing or two about the mind-body powers, and shared one particular story that had me in complete disbelief and awe. Once upon a time ago, he sat in meditation for hours with the goal of finding absolute stillness so that afterwards, he could walk over burning hot coals without burning himself. Sure enough, he conquered the burning hot coals without one burn on his body. A pregnant woman in his meditation group had the same luck. Unfortunately, a third woman who lost concentration during the experience walked away with burns on her feet. It’s crazy to believe our minds have such power over our bodies, but that is it – our minds ARE that powerful and can manifest realities that would otherwise seem downright impossible.
Santa Claus man definitely lifted my spirits with that story, along with all the festivities that followed. The food was divine – all organic and locally sourced from their backyard filling every last belly in the room. I couldn’t help but think of the plump cow outside, which made everyone’s delicious cheesecake dessert possible. While recovering from a festive food coma, we watched as the kids piled in wearing Santa hats to sing us carols, followed by a fire show outside which brought me straight back to Burning Man memories. The end of the night allowed for a choose your own adventure, with half the crowd opting for the dance party while the other half chose to watch “Elf” in the movie room. Watching Will Ferrell in an elf suit onscreen in a room full of strangers-turned-friends with Santa Claus man by my side was just the icing on the Christmas cake (plus, Santa Claus man was high out of his mind on marijuana edibles so there was a lot of laughter on his end)
'A chaos which contains the cosmos in it…a chaos out of which stars are born'
Christmas Day in India is otherworldly, bizarre and festive in its own way. Why Indians celebrate Christmas is still a mystery to me, and I guess there’s no sense in trying to understand it. It rained for the first time since we’ve been in India, which was perfect given our only desire for the day – to celebrate in proper Jewish fashion with greasy Chinese food and fresh new movies under thick warm blankets. Mission accomplished.
Meanwhile, the rest of Rishikesh is living up Christmas in its own special way...