Monday, May 30, 2011

105 hours of meditation

Oh so much time to make up for, I havent written in a while and so much has happened. To begin where I left off...
I finished my (60 page) paper on that porch in my hostel in Pohkara, Nepal, keeping a rigorous schedule of sleep, excercse, write, eat, repeat for four days. On the fifth day after a beautiful hike to the international peace pagoda, I was wandering around aimlessly when I decided to swallow my pride and make some friends. So glad I did: the two boys I met happened to be muscians with an extra guitar, and interoducted me to a world that is sutrely my home as much as any other world. Tucked in a corner of a local cafe amoungst colorful silks and candle light sat twenty to thirty young adults from all aroud the world, sitting cross legged sipping tea and chatting. A row of musicans lined one of the wall, with instruments nas various as the faces of the travellers, from violin to wooden flute, jimbe and dijeridoo, and at least three guitars. We spent the night making music together, playing off each others chords and rhythms, and creating an atmosphere of creation that spread to everyone preset. Women danced when the music moved them, soft lamps lit the warm night. It was magic, and gave me new life on this trial-ful journey.
I retured the Kathmandu refreshed and back in my usual state of glee. I delivered my paper and presentation without problem and spent the last week in Boudha hanging out with some of the musicians that- unbeknowest to me- had been living there the entire time, including a fellow yoga teacher. It was wonderful- I played guitar so much in that week I had bulging blisteras on my fingers and couldnt be happier. I dont know why the universe decided thatr I couldnt have met these young people earlier, surely I would have enjoyed their company for the three months I spent depressed in Boudha, wondering why no one on my program wanted to do anything but study or drink beers at fancy tourist restaurants. But the on week I did have with them was magic, and I'll be forever grateful for the doors they opened and the profound sense of confidence I've gained in meeting fellow travellers that had helped me so much to this day.

After our final classes came to a close, me and my friend Jerry from the program set off on the roof top of a bus to Lumbini, the birth place of the Buddha, for a vipassana meditation course. We arrived in the sweltering heat and sat down to 10 days- 105 hours- of meditation in the Burmese lineage. 10 days of waking up at 4am, no speech, two meals a day and nothing but sleep and meditation- no books writing materials, electronics allowed. It was hard. It was painful, though my hips have never been as open as they are now after sitting cross-legged 10.5 hours a day. I can now sit without moving for one hour, and count to 350 without my thoughts wavering even once (try it, before the course I could barely count to 20). I learned a lot and continue to practice, though this particular lineage didnt stike the inspiring chord that some other meditation techniques havedone. Regardless, I'm glad I did it, and recommend it to anyone who thinks they'd benefit and have ten days to spare...

From Lumbini I set off walking to India. The Nepali government had been given a timetable to compose a constitution which they did not meet, and thus the day I left there was another "bunda" a general strike. So I went on foot toward the border, only to find a bus running which scooped me up for the last 3 hours of the journey. Crossing through the Nepal/India border, I boarded a 10 hour bus to Varanasi, India, where I currently reside. Its hard to describe this city- its literally different on every street. Its ancient, over 4000 years old, and some of the structures have been in use since the time of christ. Its really incredible- tiny, narrow weaving passageways, the old part of town is a maze of a city. Not to mention the mother ganga, the great ganges river that gives life to this dusty barren land. Old customs and practices, and of course religion, still vibrat throughout the city. Curd is served in fragile clay cups, eaten and then thrown on the ground- organic, swept up and turned into dirt by natural process, no platic needed. Similarly, a samosa is handed to you on a folded leaf, discarded into the gutter without a though because it requires none. The rest of the world could learn a lot from these practices kept in tact by poverty. Oh the poverty- so pronounced here. There are beggars living on the precipice of death at every turn. I couldnt have imagined the disparity of wealth in the 21st century, but it prevails. Leprosy, beggars, street children always hold out a hand, asking, wanting, needing, its impossible to remedy. Yet life goes on, the city bussles, and the sun rises and sets.
Since arriving here on the 26th Ive been looking for company- traveling alone is not only lonely but not an easy task. In a city like this, going out alone even in the day time attracts drug dealers, sketchy men, hundreds of eyes, staring. The local women here are respected as goddesses- dressed in glittering saris and dark eye makeup, they rarley leave the house, and are untouchable by their male counterpart until marriage. The tourist, on the other hand, wears half pants and a t-shirt and travels alone with a full wallet. Invitation for living out fantasies and who knows what. Needless to say Ive been spending much of my time with the nice french couple who live in the next room over in the hostel, speaking spanish instead of english for practices and beauty. It had become strikingly clear to me that english really is the international language of the world, spoken as the second language anywhere it is not the 1st. But interestingly enought Ive been speaking more spanish than anything else here, as most of the travellers Ive met prefer it to english, as do I. Happily I practice the language of my heart I thought I would lose on this journey.
Since arriving Ive done some pretty interesting things: spent the day with pretten drug dealers who showed me around the spiraling alley ways of the city and tucked away temples, milked a water buffalo, played badminton and duck duck goose in the park with school children on holiday, watched a cremation, taken a tour of the city on rickshaw, gone to see a bolliwood film, and had my picture taken over 200 times.
The worst invention to come to india, after plastic bags, is the camera phone. For some reason Indian toursits think it is really amusing and exciting to take a picture of a white person and will literally walk up to you, point their phone at your face, snap a picture, and walk away. Thats if they dont stop you as you walk aliong ont the street, gather the family around, and then pose for four or five before shaking your hand vigorously and attempting to communicate in hindi even when you repeat, in hindi, that you dont speak hindi. Very amusing. For about a nanosecond.
Walking around this city is really intense. THe road is under perpetual construction, there's no dividing lines, and a taxi, car, rickshaw nor motorickshaw that goes 8 seconds without honking must have a broken horn. Its loud, dirty, and in your face. But adfter a week here Im actually getting accustomed to it and can now smile and say "nai, danyabad" (no thank you), to the 500,000 rickshaw drivers that repeat "madaaaam, rickshaw?" (If I said no to the guy standing right next to you, is it really necessary for you to ask me as well?!?) India is definitely a differnet place than Nepal, but its growing on me. I wonder what the next city will hold...

Tomorrow I head off to Jaipur to meet up with a friend from Occidental, then off to Dharamsala via Delhi where my best friend Anna will meet up with me from her studies in South Africa. A joyous reunion, we'll sepnd the month making music with some friends I met in Pohkara, volunteering teaching English to Tibetans, and hiking in the nearby mountains.
I'll write again from there, and maybe attach pictures from Anna's computer if possible.
Until then, many blessings,