Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Simpler

Today was a day of simple pleasures and that made it very special.

I practice everyday except Saturday on normal weeks. We also take off full and new moon days and women skip the first day of their period. This week I got four days off in a row – at least off from the shala, I still practiced on my own.

Saturday was my normal rest day, Sunday I skipped led class to attend an all day meditation, Monday is a national holiday in celebration of Lord Shiva, one of the Hindu gods in the Trimurti, and Tuesday is new moon. My first week had been so full and busy that this break was very welcome.

Saturday I spent my first rest day with Claudia, we had breakfast with a large group of students from the yogashala and then spent most of our day at the Mysore market. Claudia, very kindly helped me to find lodging when I first arrived and let me walk right into everything she had established in her time here. This morning I moved into her flat and tomorrow I pick up her rented motor scooter. Really I cannot thank her enough for making my intro to Mysore so easy and comfortable.
Sunday, per the invitation of my teacher Katiza Satya I attended and all-day meditation led by Swami Paramahamsa Nithyanada. The Swami is a fully enlightened master at the ripe old age of 31. He has a large following and travels the world leading meditations and helping people realize what they require to atain fulfillment. He is a beautiful, always smiling man and the meditations he led us through were some of the most lovely ones I have ever had.

As part of the day participants had the opportunity to be blessed by the Swami and to ask a question, which pretty much was akin to asking to have a wish granted. I spent the entire morning trying to formulate my wish. We had been warned to think it through very carefully, that what we wished for we would get, so if you wished for a big car, you might end up driving a bus.

Finally I settled on asking for clarity of mind, speech and purpose. I threw a in footnote request that want to be a writer, student, teacher and traveler and that I would require the tools/means to sustain such this lifestyle – we’ll see if footnote wishes are granted as well.


As beautiful as the day and my meditations were I have to admit that I had a few Love Guru moments during the day. If you have not seen the movie you should. Not that it is necessarily a work of cinematic genius or anything, but when I saw it, it allowed me to laugh at this yogic path I have chosen.

Around midday I took a stroll through the hall where the meditation was held and perused the for-sale items. The Swami sells books, CDs, malas, photos and even pens adorned with his image. These all seemed pretty standard to me and while I don’t see why I need to write with the Swami staring at me, none of it seemed too much to me. That is until I got to the condiment section. The swami sells blessed bottles of chili sauce, face creams and various tinctures that promise to settle your belly or moisturize, I can’t be certain which. Anyway it was the condiment table that made me think of Mike Myers as the Love Guru finishing every profound statement with a TM – trade mark.

This morning I said goodbye to my beloved friends Claudia and Satya. As I watched them drive away I realized that I am now alone in India and that is a wondrous opportunity. I packed up my things and delivered them to my new flat. Seeing off my friends meant getting up at 4:45 so I was little groggy. I decided to venture out for a cup of coffee. I had no luck finding an open café, but I did get to begin my simple pleasure day through this walk.

First I stumbled upon the local dairy/milk store. Cows are so commonplace here I might not have noticed this unassuming little stall even with a dozen heifers tied up out front, but upon closer inspection I realized that the men were milking and there was a steady stream of stainless steel pail laden dairy consumers. The milkers would deliver their pail fulls to the merchant who would then turn around and pour the pails into stainless steel jugs which were quickly snatched up by customers. It was a simple, efficient and I found beauty in it.
From there I went to the coconut stand to meet Kim, Shelly and Joyce, new friends who invited me to join them on a trip to Bylakuppe for the day. Bylakuppe is about two hours from Mysore and it is special because after the 1959 invasion of Tibet, many Tibetans settled here and today this Buddhist enclave feels like you must have crossed a border somewhere. Word on the street was that the Dalai Lama was here and so we set out to see if we could spend another day with His Holiness.

Turns out even the Dalai Lama needs a day off. We did not get to see his Holiness on this day, but we all meditated at the temple where he was resting and that was plenty for me – two days of meditating with masters is all this little Western girl could possibly hope for.
Monks in crimson robes filled every corner of Bylakuppe. We got to watch young students recite prayers from their brightly colored books under the gazes of three golden Buddhas in one temple. Where the Dalai Lama was resting we watched devotees walk clockwise around the temple, counting off the beads of their malas and reciting prayers as they rounded the corners. Colors, prayer flags, monks, malas… these are the images that Bylakuppe has emblazoned on my mind, but the image I will always remember is that of a young monk sharing his rationed meal with a beggar on the street, such a simple and generous gesture.

Back in Gokalum I settled into my new home. I allowed myself to completely unpack and took the time to adorn my room with some of the items I have picked up along the way.

Tonight I sat out on the roof serenaded by the flapping of Buddhist prayer flags as one of the daily power outages blackened the street below and illuminated the stars above. I made myself a simple dinner on the single burner propane camp stove my flat came with and indulged in writing a lengthy post about what a beautifully simple day I had.

Note the toy gun in the young monk's hand.

Monday, February 23, 2009

His Holiness

Some days it is quite hard to be me and some days I am the luckiest girl in the world.

Yesterday morning I woke up early and decided to get online and check my email only to have my computer completely crash on me. I went to morning practice and tried desperately to put my toasted computer out of my mind, but of course I failed. I met a guy yesterday who told me a variation on a Buddhist lesson, which pretty much sums up my day.
A man asks his guru to tell him the secret to meditation. The guru says it is simple – for the next week do not think about monkeys. The man is confused, but thanks his teacher and goes home. For the next week the man thinks about monkeys nonstop, over morning tea he envisions monkeys in trees, at night as he falls asleep he sees playful monkeys dancing, monkeys monkeys everywhere, all the time. At the end of the week he tells his teacher how he has failed and his teacher tells him that the secret to meditating is to quiet the monkeys in the mind.

My monkey was my defunct MacBook. All day I fretted over my computer. Have I lost all my photos? When was my last back up? How will I write to the website and so on? Basically I spent the whole day uselessly worrying. But finally at about 9pm after an hour-long call to Apple Care, I decided to stop worrying and to take it as an opportunity to minimize a distraction and to focus on my surroundings.
LinkI woke up today in an absolutely stellar mood. I all but skipped to morning practice, I got into Marichyasana D all by myself and then for fun I did some Bhujapidasana and even threw in a Kurmasana for good measure. I emerged from the yogashala beaming. I skipped back home and then went off to Om Café for some breakfast before my anatomy class. At breakfast I overheard some other yogis talking about venturing up north next week to try and catch the Dalai Lama who is supposed to be giving a talk there.

Wow – the Dalai Lama, what could be cooler than seeing his holiness speak in India of all places. This summer he spoke in Aspen and I so wanted to go. However, the fact that tickets to the event were somewhere around $1000 and that it took place while I was in France prevented my attendance.

I went in to my anatomy class and tried to focus on the Psoas and the transverse abdoniminous something or another, but today the Dalai Lama was my monkey and my mind kept leaping back to the chance to get to see him.

Class finished and Noah, the teacher said “hey, I heard the Dalai Lama is speaking at the university in Mysore today, I am heading over to see if I can catch him. There’s space on my bike if anyone wants to tag along.” Fifteen minutes later I was in the presence of his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Along with about 300 university students I listened as he gave a speech on Ahimsa.

Ahimsa is simply put the principle of non-violence. It means to live a non-harming life, to foster beauty and harmony, to live peacefully. It is one of Yama’s of yogic philosophy, part of the eight limbs and affectively Yamas are the golden rules of a yogi.
On this day, I was in India, seeing to the spiritual leader of Buddhism talk about ahimsa. Twenty-four hours before it never even occurred to me that seeing the Dalai Lama was an option while I was here, but as fate would have it... there I was.
On this day, I am the luckiest girl in the world.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ashes to Ego

There are still a few spaces left for the This End Up! yoga retreat in Bali this April. Click HERE
to learn more.
That smoldering pile of ash on the floor… that was once a nice chunk of my ego.

There isn’t really an orientation at the shala since people come and go daily, so you are left to figure out the protocols on your own. This predictably led to my completely mucking up in every possible way.

My assigned practice time was 8:45 a.m. I showed up at 8:10, 8:25 according to the shala clock, thankfully I had been warned about the clock being set 15 minutes fast and that it is assumed you will arrive 15 minutes early. This means you are expected there a half hour earlier than your assigned time. I was unsure if I was supposed to wait on the street or in the hall, so at 8:30 shala time I went into the hallway expecting to peer through the doors for a while to watch the others and hopefully learn the tricks of the trade before a space opened up for me to go in.

No such luck on this day – as soon as I walked through the front door, I was ushered straight into the shala and told to get to work. I laid out my mat, piled my things in a neat stack and sat down to take some centering breaths before beginning my practice. At this point I had already committed two cardinal sins. The first – only you and your mat are welcome in the shala – all your stuff has to go in a locker, I was unaware there were even lockers. Due to the number of practitioners and the relatively small size of the shala, it is kind of a get-em-in/get-em-out situation, no lallygagging... no centering breaths. You walk in, you begin Surinamascara A (sun salutation A) immediately.
Alright, lessons learned and I only feel mostly like a jackass, time to get to my practice. Inhale extend… exhale contract… lengthen… stira… suka, steady and comfortable. I was thinking to myself, I feel good, I feel like today I can touch my toes, maybe I am not a complete hack. Then he spoke.

– Rachel
– Yes Sharath…
– Are you a beginner?
– Um … not entirely.
– You look like a beginner

Right then, fantastic. This is the part where my mind starts hysterically laughing at me. You idiot, you just traveled around the world to come study with the masters, you are in WAY over your head. Here, once again I found myself drowning with no clear escape other than to complete the series under the watching eyes of Sharath and to try and shut my mind up.

I told myself over and over again… I didn’t come here because I am an expert, I came here to learn. I want to believe that being ‘a beginner’ means that I am that much more committed for doing this now, at this relatively early stage in my yogic journey. I like to think of myself as a middle-aged prodigy.

But pretty often my mind went back to the ‘you are a hack’ line of thought and try as I might I felt awkward in the remaining poses. I was relieved when I was dismissed to go complete the finishing sequence in the locker room on my own. Somewhere in the seated posture portion Sharath told me he would help me tomorrow, which means he expects me to come back for more yogic ass kicking. With any luck I’ll be able to touch my toes and I won’t cry.

After morning practice I went in search of longer-term accommodations. I am staying in a nice apartment/hotel which comes with a dodgy Internet connection, a nice bed, daily breakfast and the steep price tag of 1200 rupees or $25 a day – a fortune by Mysore standards. Claudia is here for another week and then the room she is letting is available so I am planning to move in there for 6500 rupees/month or about $130. While it lacks Internet and breakfast it comes with a very private rooftop setting, propane stove and did I mention it costs $130 a month.

After visiting Claudia’s rental I tagged along with her to breakfast. On our way to brunch Claudia asked me how my morning practice was and I told her about the beginner comment and subsequent internal head games. She said “oh that’s just his way of asking if you have ever practiced in Mysore before… are you a beginner means is this your first time here? His English isn’t perfect.” Lesson learned, perhaps that pile of ash was ignorance not ego after all.

I sat down for a few moments at the restaurant, ordered a snack and set out to work on rereading my teacher training manual. I was about two pages in when a red-haired man came out and yelled something about the last course beginning and room available, lada lada lada. Claudia and Jonika both looked at me and said in unison “you must go!”

Turns out the redhead was Noah a yogi/chiropractor/anatomy professor and he is offering his final yoga anatomy/therapy class for this season. I grabbed my hummus and tea and joined his class. In the afternoon I attended classes on Sanskrit and Yoga Sutra chanting. My days here can be very full, there are a multitude of classes and treatments available to choose from and for this first week at least I am already booked solid.

Tuesday I had my second practice and true to his word Sharath came over to help me get into Marichyasana D – a particularly contentious twist for me. I have never been able to get into it on my own, but as soon as he sat down he said, “I think you don’t need me” and with that he helped guide me, but there was none of the actually pulling and twisting on his part that I had required from past teachers to get me into the posture. I did it on my own.

My practices thus far have been amazing in that I am really able to meditate in them. I am in a room with about fifty other people, all breathing loudly, joints popping, sometimes grunting, there are cars outside beeping their horns, doors creaking , and peanut sellers singing the song that apparently alerts people there is a peanut seller outside and yet with all of these distractions I am able to focus inwardly more easily than maybe any other practices I have had. An hour and a half goes by in the blink of an eye and I leave the shala feeling an inch taller, five pounds lighter and a heap of consciousness stronger. It is truly beautiful.
A few days ago I met Appu the rickshaw driver. Since Thailand I am beyond wary of taxi drivers but Appu has soft eyes and I immediately liked him. Last night he took me to dinner and to run some errands. When he brought me back to my flat I asked how much and he said it was up to me. I handed him 150 rupees ($3), he handed me back 50 and said it was too much. My jaw hit the floor.

So today I called Appu and asked him to take me into Mysore proper for some shopping and lunch. He picked this fantastic India restaurant and showed me how to eat all of the wonders placed before me. Break this up and use it to eat from this container, pour this sauce over this rice, put sugar in this for dessert, and so on. I felt like I was two being spoon fed, but it was a much needed lesson for me and I was grateful to have him there.
Then we went to the market. I love visiting markets – oh the wonders of a new country laid out neatly in 5’ stalls. Appu helped me decipher which stalls sold decent items and which ones sold overpriced inferior sandalwood sprayed with scent to make it seem better. I bought a few malas, prayer beads, for gifts and took about a hundred photos of brightly colored paint bases and of the flower stalls.

Somewhere in the carrot section I realized why this particular market seemed so special. No meat. Every other Asian market I have ventured into has a fish and unidentifiable animal product section, whose smell overpowers all the subtle scents of jasmine and cinnamon. Not here, in this market you smell it all, the incense vendors, sandalwood, fresh papayas cut open to show their golden orange color, I could smell the palm sugar, the roasting peanuts and the marigolds – it was an olfactory smörgåsbord and I loved it.

I fell asleep that night with the smells still strong in my nose and I think that was when I realized, I love it here.

Notes:
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Due to the untimely demise of my operating system I'm left unable to size photos for a few weeks, the next couple of posts will therefore contain full-resolution photos which will likely slow down their loading. Mac OS X apologizes for any issues resulting from it's failings.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Yoga's Belly Button

My friend Claudia has been in Mysore almost since I last saw her in Cambodia and she kindly helped me to get an apartment/hotel. As I was leaving the five-star, recovery hotel I got a text from her saying, you may see Satya when you check in. Satya is my Chilean firecracker of a yoga teacher and while I knew she’d be in India while I was here I had no idea that not only would I get to see her, but that in fact she would be the first person I laid eyes on in Gokolam. Not that I needed further affirmation, but seeing her was a sure sign that this is the right place for me.

Back at yoga teacher training was the first time I really became aware of the roots of Ashtanga yoga. I learned about Sri Krisnamacharya who was the teacher of Pattabhi Jois, who is the teacher of my teacher Satya and who founded the Ashtanga Research Center here in Mysore. Pattabhi Jois, or Guruji as he is affectionately known by his students, is 94 now and sadly he is not well. His yoga shala is currently run by his daughter Saraswathi and grandson Sharath. This is where I have come to practice for the next month.

Gokolam, where the yoga shala is and where I am staying seems to me to be a sort of suburb of Mysore. It is a very upscale town by the Indian standards I have seen thus far. Everything is within walking distance of my hotel and while built on a grid system it is not… I was able to figure out how to navigate the roads and to find some key landmarks, namely Anu’s place and the coconut shack.

Anu’s is a restaurant, Internet café, guesthouse and all around yogi center. Ganesh who runs the place is a go-to guy for all the questions confused visiting yogis could come up with. Where can I stay? Where can I rent a motorbike? How can I call home? And so on.

While walking around the town I had noticed this unimpressive little shack in the middle of the main street that was always packed with yogis drinking from coconuts. During my lunch at Anu’s the gentleman at the table with me mentioned the coconut shack and I said that I had seen it. He informed me that the shack was the center of the yogic world – that it was effectively “yoga’s navel”. I haven’t quite worked up the courage to drink coconut juice from the belly button of yoga, but I am sure I will before I leave.
Later I met up with Satya, her Dutch friends Danielle and Nina, and Claudia and her friend Jonika, all six of us went out for a dinner of dosas and fresh watermelon juice. I felt so amazing in the company of all of these wonderful women, all of us here to practice, all of us smiling with our wide eyes and open hearts. After dinner we quietly made our way back to the hotel and each settled in for the night.

Still fighting the time difference, I woke up every two hours and finally threw in the towel at 4am. After a couple hours of flitting about, I made my way to the roof and began my morning practice. When practicing at the shala the weeks run from Monday through Saturday, so your week, month, whatever begins on a Monday. For me this means one day of on-my-own practice before the big show.

One by one Satya, Danielle and Nina joined me on the roof until we were each at our own place within the Ashtanga Primary Series and each within our own breath. It was a beautiful practice for me, during a vinyasa I looked up to see a hawk landing on the roof about 15’ feet from us. I stared at him, he stared at us in our strange positions, it was a really special moment.
After my practice I was eager to explore the town more so I set out on foot once again. I walked along quiet residential streets photographing doors and windows and the chalk-drawn prayers in front of each house. I took note of all the very healthy-looking cows wandering haphazardly through the streets. And finally I found the coffee café. I know I am supposed to learn to love Chai while I am here, but I will have to slowly ween myself off of my Italy-developed cappuccino habit.

Satya pulled up as I was out front of the café and the two of us enjoyed a drink and conversation. Generally I think I am a good conversationalist. I can speak to varying degrees on most topics moving conversations along or slowing the pace when appropriate and truly I enjoy hearing other people’s stories. But when any of my teachers talk, I am greedy with their words. I don’t want to add to the conversation I just want to drink in their experiences and perceptions. So my cup remained full as I sated my thirst with Satya’s words and simply enjoyed being in her presence.
I walked back to the hotel afterwards, the whole time my eyes wide and my grin inviting. People here are so fascinatingly open. Something about their smiles and the abundance of eye contact that makes me want to actually talk to everyone. In Thailand I found myself looking down, wearing my headphones and generally avoiding having to talk. Here I want to engage everyone, hear all their stories, stare into their eyes and be blinded by their toothy smiles.

At 4pm I went to register for the month. Sharath signed me in and gave me the card signifying my right to practice in the main shala with him. If you come for less than one month you practice later in the day with Saraswathi. I set my watch to shala time, fifteen minutes faster than real time, and grabbed a seat by Claudia and Jonika for the afternoon’s lecture.

Sharath began speaking about energy channels and how asana (physical yoga) and pranayama (breath) are the paths to cleaning your nervous system. After about ten minutes he ended the class abruptly and informed us that he had to leave because Guruji had taken ill and had to go to the hospital. Everyone in the room felt the weight of those words. Outside the shala we caught a rare glimpse of Guruji as his car drove away.

In the evening we went to see the palace which is lit up by thousands of standard light bulbs on Sunday nights. Since we had arrived earlier than expected we took a quick side trip and ended up at Sri Patanjala’s Yoga Shala where Sri Krisnamacharya taught, where Guruji studied, where Ashtanga and by lineage Vinyasa began. It was such a powerful place to visit and to get to be there with one of my teachers was beyond anything I could have ever hoped for.

A few minutes later we were standing in front of the shining Maharaja’s Palace and I was completely overcome with joy and wonderment. How did a girl from Cincinnati, Ohio end up at the yogic center of the world at this moment, with these women?

I felt like my body and mind were inadequately equipped to take it all in, like my eyes could not widen enough, my mind could not comprehend and like my heart was having to work overtime to compensate for the failings of my senses.

I am humbled, I am inspired and I cannot wait for my first practice tomorrow morning.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Around the World in Five Days

Note: While I was home a my friend Brook informed that I should start telling the whole truth on these pages. That all the good stuff is a bit insufferable and that I need to start painting a more realistic picture before all my friends sell their homes and follow my path. Admittedly I try not to be negative here and I gloss over or completely omit a lot of the trials of a traveler’s life. This post however should make up for that.

I was ready to hit the road. My time in Colorado had completely revitalized me and I was eager for the second half to begin. I drove myself to the airport and watched as a few clouds began to blow in, signaling a snow storm on the horizon. I checked in and grabbed a seat in the lobby so I could say goodbye to Dan when he came by on his way home from work to fetch my car and see me off. All was going according to plan.

My flight schedule was heinous. A three-day global circumnavigation the likes of which only a directionally-challenged sadomasochist could dream up. The product of piecing together three tickets to get to India. Aspen to Munich, Munich to Bangkok and Bangkok to India. The Aspen to Munich portion was a paid ticket. Munich to Bangkok a Mileage Plus reward ticket to get me back to my round-the-world ticket which I pick up in Thailand. It was an intricate house of cards and it came predictably tumbling down in the foreshadowing winds of that oncoming snowstorm.

As Dan waited patiently in the lobby, I stood shaking at the United counter, having just been informed that if/when I missed my SFO>MUC connection and thus my flight from Munich, that I would have forfeited the remainder of my Mileage ticket. There is a long story here that involves me crying, a bit of impassioned pleading and finally the shaking part, but bottom line was that they told me in order to get to Bangkok in time to get to India I was looking at two choices. The first was $6,000, the second was $2000.

I sent Dan home and boarded the plane, praying for some kind of aviation intervention that would allow me to make it to the SFO>Munich gate in 15 or less minutes. Then all my hopes were dashed. The pilot came on and said something about how they were trying to load too many fur coats and Louis Vuitton steamer trunks and how we had to be de-iced and that the new projected landing time in SFO was 9:30, fifteen minutes after the Munich flight departed.

I slumped in my coach seat and tried to devise a plan. Alright, not the end of the world. Beth lives in San Francisco. I can move in with her, and heck it’s the Tour of California this week, I can tag along with Roberto. I’ll just give up on India, I mean how many signs do I need to know I am unwanted, and then I’ll scour the travel sites to find a cheap ticket to Bali for April. It’s not the end of the world…

And then the miracle happened. The lights came on, the door opened and the flight attendant said “we have been weight restricted, I need two volunteers to deplane, for which you will be rerouted without charge and given a free ticket for US travel.” Graceful I am not, but swift, oh yeah! I was at the door in two shakes of a tail feather. An hour later I had all new tickets, including the free one and Dan was picking me up again for one final night in down enveloped bliss.

The big downside here was that my new routing was even more heinous than the original one, but it didn’t cost me two grand so I danced a jig and thanked everyone profusely.
Now five days, five countries, six flights and an ill-advised third class train ride later I am in Mysore, India. I am as sleep deprived as I have ever been.

Fun facts:
• Upon landing in Munich I promptly went and had a spit, (a nice Aussie term for tossing one’s cookies) thanks to an unfortunate cup of coffee mixed with a yogurt and half an hour of neck breaking decent turbulence. This marks the first time I have ever endured motion sickness and I would like for it to NEVER happen again.

• Munich’s Lufthansa lounge has sleepers in the First Class section and the kindly women at the desk took one look at my pallor and generously granted me entrée where I got the most sleep I would for the next three days.

• Munich and Vienna both have sex shops in their airport terminals. I can't help but wonder if sales aren't affected by the fact that both are situated directly before the security x-ray machines.

• United no longer serves free drinks on international flights. I think this is cause for a revolution.

• My suitcase liked Munich so it decided to spend a few extra days there.

• Thanks to my suitcase’s prolonged vacation I wore the same velour tracksuit for three days. In Bangkok they gave me an overnight kit, which consisted of XXS grannie panties and an XL white T-shirt. Could anything be less attractive for a woman to sleep in?

• I was in Bangkok for less than 24 hours. In that time, while effectively sleepwalking I managed to get my phone unlocked (shh, don’t tell), put up a post on this site, shower, buy enough clothes to get me out of the Juicy suit and get scammed by two taxi drivers.

• A Red Carpet Club card gets you into any Star Alliance lounge in the world except for Bangkok’s Thai Airways lounge. A fact I did not know until I had to spend five hours at the airport awaiting the arrival of my luggage.

• Among the lifesavers I feel compelled to mention during this odyssey are… The Red Carpet Club (except Bangkok’s), Ambien, Pinot Grigio, four seasons of Weeds viewed on my laptop and noise-canceling headphones.

Alright back to the story… So at almost midnight on February 12 I landed at the Bangalore airport. My taxi ride to the hotel felt like one of those movie drug scenes, where everything is flying by in a tunnel of neon, dotted intermittently with close ups of cars too nearby and with a Bollywood soundtrack blaring over the cheap blown out speakers. Once at my pre-booked, moth ball scented, not cheap, slum of a hotel, I managed to get about 3 hours of sleep before the arriving dawn light let me get a good look at my lodging conditions and effectively lit a fire under me to get out of Bangalore.
My haste to leave the city is how I ended up on a third class train to Mysore, which took five hours. Had I been able to wait one more hour I would have gotten on the 1st class express and would have been there two hours earlier, but sleep deprivation and squalor are a bad mix for normally savvy travelers.
I was the ONLY non-Indian on the standing room only train. Not a single moment of the five hours went by without people openly and unabashedly staring at me. I have never been so self-conscious in my life, have never loathed my golden locks or blue eyes so totally. About four hours into the train ride I read in my Lonely Planet about a five-star resort in Mysore and about thirty seconds later managed to justify the expense.
Today I write from the balcony of my bungalow, serenaded by geese, monkeys and a plunge pool. I fell asleep yesterday at 4pm and woke this morning at 7:30. I have showered, burned my velour tracksuit and eaten enough Dhal to convince me that three hours a day of yoga notwithstanding, I won’t be losing any weight in India.

I think I am going to like it here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Home.

If indeed home is where the heart is, then for me Colorado must be home. My trip back to Aspen was exactly the rejuvenating start-over I needed. A few weeks in the warm embrace of my friends has left me happy, excited and eager for my onward journey. It also helped me begin to form an idea of what I want the end of my journey to look like.

As soon as I deplaned in Chicago I felt the buzz of America again, 100 yards up the breezeway I found myself inexplicably racing to pass my fellow passengers. I was walking like an American. That is to say I was walking like the Pamplona bulls were chasing me and being the first one to the immigration line was the only way to ensure my survival.

Immigration made me smile, for the first time in many months and throughout many airports, border check points and ports, I was a national! I got to stand in the short line, I was welcomed home.

One more flight and I was back in Aspen, being met by my beloved Audrey who guided my delirious, jet-lagged self back down valley to Carbondale – the worker-bee hive of the Roaring Fork Valley. In the morning I awoke to a breakfast date at my favorite local early morning haunt with Audrey, my friend and physician Hilary and my gorgeous goddaughter Ella Rose.

After a day to sort of get over my culture shock and sleep deprivation it was time to tackle my materialistic side and sort through all my stored boxes. When I left Colorado I condensed most of my belongings down to around 40 Tupperware boxes. The contents of these boxes vary from camping gear to books, to art and inordinate numbers of purses, sunglasses and $300 jeans - most of which I purchased when I weighed about 100lbs. Something about depression makes me thin – the new improved, fat and happy Rachel is no longer a size 25. Guess I better find a short, borderline anorexic twelve year-old to donate all my pants to.

I changed out almost all of the clothes that I have been wearing for the last seven months, gave my flip flops a much needed bleach bath to wash away who knows how many manky Asian markets and decided to stop pretending I am a backpacker, thus swapping my convertible roller bag/pack for my over sized Burton Wheely.

Aside from homesickness and longing to have a conversation with someone I have known for more than two hours, I had some real admin tasks to attend to - Apple store, doctors and accountants, good times. A new iPhone, my tax return and a clean bill of health later it was time to fully relax into creature comforts and familiarity.

Ahh the comforts, let’s begin with my car – I am not sure how to best describe the feeling of not only being able to go wherever I want when I want, but to also be able to read the street signs, for a weary traveler this is bliss. Getting behind the wheel again was a breeze, I remembered which side of the road to drive on most of the time and quickly regained my multi-tasking skills, talking, texting, drinking a latte, waiving a t friends and driving all at the same time.

Bed. I am a sucker for good linens and down. For ten whole nights I got to sleep in a cloud of featherbeds and comforters. My back protested for the first few nights, having grown accustomed to plywood thinly veiled in poly-blend sheets, but by day four I was hard-pressed to get out of the feather cocoon.

Friends and family. Most days I had dates for all three meals and a few coffee hours thrown in the mix. I attempted unsuccessfully to fit in everyone I wanted to see, but did manage to see many of those I love. The luxury of calling people without having to convert the time and worrying about costs was too good and if I wasn't in someone's direct company, I was burning through my rollover minutes.
Dan. Despite our decision to no longer be married we remain the very best of friends and I consider him family regardless of our legal status. Getting to spend time with him was a huge part of my wanting to go home. Dan comes with a bonus feature – our dog Gus, an Australian Shepherd avalanche rescue dog. Pretty much once the three of us were reunited we were inseparable. I am blessed beyond measure to have Dan in my life and no matter how unconventional our relationship may seem now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

New me, old town. So the big thing for me personally was to see if I could bring my new tool box home with me. If the Rachel I have become in Europe and Asia, can maintain back in the states. I gotta tell you old habits are hard to break and ruts can be hard to climb out of. I definitely stepped backwards a few times, but I caught myself and realized that it’s okay.

The old Rachel is sarcastic, can be caddy and I love her, she’s funny. She is also a bit insecure, and I love her for that. And she leaks – her eyes malfunction often, welling with tears and betraying her tough yet yogi façade. This trait used to drive me crazy. Crying made me feel weak and once the waterworks began – forget it, I was committed for the whole day. This time though when I would spring a leak, I watched the emotions come and then I observed as they left and I loved myself for still feeling something.

Mostly what I can tell has changed in me is that I no longer dwell. I held a black belt in dwelling. I was Rachel Catherine Dwell, Phd. If there was a major league for dwelling, you’d be looking at the commissioner. But no more. I forgive myself now, I love myself now, I acknowledge and embrace my flaws, they are as much a part of me as my triumphs and more admirable traits.

Of course I strive to be yogi, so I am disappointed when I slip and become, as Dan once coined it, the anti-Rachel. Not dwelling doesn’t mean that I don’t still hold myself accountable, but it does mean that after I begin a day at the bottomless mimosa brunch café with my friend Kristin (of Kristin Annoyed) and end it passed out in front of the Superbowl, I don’t have to hate myself in the morning or recount every word I said, beating myself up for simply having a good time.

So this is how my visit home went. I was restored, rejuvenated, reassured and thanks to my new accountant I am being refunded. Home is an amazing place filled with the most wonderful people and while apparently I had to go half-a-world away to be able to love myself there, luckily for me home stayed right where it was.