First - let’s get one thing straight. When people are meditating, they’re not floating to a higher place or experiencing supernatural powers (well - not normally anyway). Meditation is - simply put - about presence. What do I mean by presence? It’s about how present we are in the activity we are doing at the time. For some this may be sitting quietly, cross legged in a quiet room noticing the breath. For others they could be practicing Surya Namaskara whilst for someone else it could be climbing a mountain… Whatever the activity is that you’re doing - meditation comes when you are completely present in each moment of that activity. This means noticing how you feel, your surroundings, the sounds - and not being disturbed by them - just simply aware of them.
People often come to me and say they don’t know how to meditate because they can’t keep focused, or they can’t sit still for longer than five minutes etc. Sound familiar? Firstly, to remain focused on any task is a huge challenge, especially in a world full of SOOOO much stimulus - computers, phones, radio… To meditate therefore means learning to bring your awareness back to what you’re trying to focus on e.g. the breath. This may need to happen many times during the 5,10,15 minutes you’re sitting or walking for, but this is where the control of the mind comes in. This is meditation.
For those who want to sit and meditate (recommended as this way you’re trying to eliminate distractions giving you a good head start with your practice), practice sitting quietly for 5 minutes, then 7 minutes, 9, minutes, 15 minutes and so on. This is how you learn to gradually build up your practice without forcing yourself to sit uncomfortably for a long stint up front. If you do this (the long stint sitting), then it’s likely you won’t try again. If, however, you’re gentler on yourself and start gradually, with an acceptance that it will take time to build up a sitting tolerance, then your outlook on meditation will fundamentally transform. It will become a practice you will grow to love, look forward to and become more and more present in.
To kick start your meditation journey - find a space you love (or an activity), a time of day you can commit to and then be sure to use this time for your meditation (again, this could also be a beautiful walk outdoors etc). If one day whilst meditating you realise you were off with the fairies for most of it - don’t beat yourself up. We all do it! Just notice this and try and look a little deeper at what is going on in your life. There must be a disturbance in the force (had to throw that in there) if this is happening - which is called life right!. The opposite is also true - if you realise at the end of your practice you were completely present and absorbed, then again take time to notice and understand why this may be so? What have you changed, done, experienced recently which is helping you to be completely present? This is all knowledge at the end of the day - knowledge about ourselves that we can use to be the best, most beautiful self we can be.
So remember - start slow, be kind to yourself and just notice what’s going on. This is true meditation.
Well, I made it. 45 hours in an Indian
train. I survived. It’s certainly not an ideal way to travel, in India
especially, but the learnings, not to mention memories, of this experience
shall be with me for a lifetime.
I’m in Agra at the moment, staying in the
lovely Taj Inn Hotel. To be honest, I’m feeling a little off at the moment. I’ve
realized I feel like I’ve lost something big in my life by no longer having my
routine of yoga twice daily with my teacher. Looking back on how I felt during
the first week of class to how I feel now, I would never have thought I could
possibly miss the rigid routine and long hours. But I do. My energy levels are
also not as they were. Granted, traveling in India is tough. Even with a driver
– nothing is simple and the constant noise can easily unsettle someone. (But
generally, the noise is fine). I think it’s just the reality hit of life
outside of the Gokulam bubble.
In saying that, however, this is the time
where I can determine the type of person I want/choose to be. I can be the one
who commits to remaining still and calm in the face of a crazy, loud and
overwhelming (at times) world; or I can choose to give into all of that and
allow my mind to control me rather than the other way around. At the end of the
day, my perception is what I choose it to be and I can either choose to keep
being present and appreciating all of the experiences (train and all!) or live
in an unconscious state where I miss the little beauties in the world and fall
victim to an unskilled way of thinking. (Unless you haven’t already noticed, by
talking this out I’m actively working to better understand my thought processes
at the moment so I can control them better).
Yoga has taught me so many lessons, the
most important being ‘presence’. I’ve found this a real challenge since being
on the road and trying to practice in different hotel rooms (some of which are
not the most inviting spaces to practice in). And again, although this comes
down to my perception, I’m certainly looking forward to creating a nice space
for myself when I return home. This really is important for any practitioner. I
also need to be gentle on myself and recognize that this leg of the journey was
always going to be a challenge – it’s been like swimming in a lovely heated
pool to throwing myself into a cold ocean with waves crashing around me. So
acknowledging this is important. (I’m rambling. I hope this makes some sort of
In saying all of that, I’ve had a wonderful
afternoon visiting the Baby Taj and watching the Taj Mahal from across the
river as the sun set upon it. Truly magical moments. Of course I wish Owen
could be with me, but he is here in spirit. And it just means I will need to
bring him with me next time!
Oh, and the 45 hour train ride has
certainly been worth it thus far. There really is a magic about the Taj. I was
overwhelmed when I saw it from afar for the first time earlier today. Tomorrow
I shall visit the Taj Mahal with a tour guide. If ever there was a time to
spend the extra money on a guide, it’s now. One of the Seven Wonders of the World
needs to be understood, so this is a treat to self.
With a 3.00am wake up tomorrow, it’s now
time for bed. I have a Taj Mahal to see!
I left Mysore yesterday morning at 9.30am. Today, I arrived at my hotel, Jasmine Palace, at 9.50am. In short - buggered.
The 16 hour train from Bangalore was nothing short of ‘an experience’ to put it nicely. Dealing with people sitting on my bed, bumping me through my curtain, fart smells, men walking up and down the aisles yelling (I’m not joking - yelling) “coffee, coffee, coffee!” or “chai, sweet
chai, chai!”, screaming children and snoring about sums up the
experience. Not to mention the toilets. I swear to God I nearly died
when I saw them. I knew they wouldn’t be good and in anticipation of
what I would find I held on for as long as possible. But I was mortified
when I saw the toilets.
Walking out from my carriage into the
part which joins the carriages, I was instantly struck by the foul smell
of urine and shit (excuse me, but it’s the truth). Those smells
combined with hot, humid conditions were just revolting. Trying not to
fall off the speeding train, (as all the doors are open and the train
tilts at every corner), I steadied myself against the wall of the first
toilet door. I opened the latch and saw an Indian toilet with a
combination of water, urine and poo sloshing around on the floor. Jesus
Christ! Slamming that door shut I went to the next one. Same again. In
hope to find a western toilet I tried a third door but again the same
story only this Indian toilet had tiny raised platforms for your feet to
go on. By this point I knew I just needed to suck it up, do my business
and get out. Thank God for my baby wipes and Dettol gel in my pack.
Refusing to stand on the feet cut outs, for if I slipped my feet were
going into the hole, I just spread my legs as far wide as possible and
went. Where I went, I don’t know, but I don’t think it would have made
any difference to how sanitary the toilet was. With wee spraying on my
feet I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Disgusted, I wiped and
sanitised everything when I made it back to my sleeper (which now
appeared cleaner than ever before compared).
I slept on and off
all night, with my feet raised against my pack (mostly so I would notice
if sometime tried to take it) and cuddling my small backpack which has
my passport, wallet etc inside. My bed felt like a rock with a big hump
in the middle of it. Let’s just say comfort doesn’t come close. However
when I saw other trains pass us, similar to the one I was on, with
people’s arms hanging out of barred windows, I was certainly grateful to
be in the seat/sleeper I was in. The rest of my train would have been
like this also - and 16 hours in ‘cattle class’ (as they call it) would
have been nothing short of horrendous. It’s going to be interesting when
I do the same trip but for 3 days straight to Agra! I will worry about
that when the time comes.
Waiting for the train to arrive in
Kochuveli, I sat in my sleeper stretching my legs and doing some forward
bends, like Paschimottanasana and Marichyasana A. It was nice to try
and get the circulation going again. That’s definitely a benefit of
yoga. It can come with you anywhere.
Arriving at the Kochuveli
train station, a tall Indian man dressed in the whitest of white shirt
and pants, with contrasting back leather shoes, immediately came to me. I
think I’d been off the train for about 5 seconds before he approached
me. Clearly I was the only white person on the train. I followed him to
his gold sedan which had seats covered in white towels, smelled of
incense and was nice and cool. Everything about this man just seemed
clean, which was so refreshing after the trip I had just been on. I
suddenly noticed a ‘poo’ like smell in the car. I wondered if it was
something in his car, or something one of us may have trodden in? I
wasn’t sure. But then I suddenly worked out it was me. I stank. When I
smelled my clothes up close, they smelt fine. But I think there was a
combination of smells (collected via my 24 hour journey) coming from my
hair, armpits and clothes which created a concoction of ‘poo’ smelling
Jessica. I was utterly embarrassed. Hopefully the smell didn’t waft into
the front of the car…
We traveled for about 40 minutes to
Kovalam, where my hotel, Jasmine Palace, is located. Travelling down a
steep, unkempt narrow lane, we arrived at my hotel. I was so relieved.
Step 1: Shower Step 2: Food. After check in I was taken to the most
stunning, large room which overlooks the pool. What a change in sleeping
arrangements! The bed is big enough to fit 5 people in it! And the view
is just magnificent. I felt instantly relaxed. WIth a quick check in
back home to Owen, so he knew I was alive, followed by the best shower
of my life, with wet hair I ran downstairs to the closed restaurant who
agreed to make me breakfast. Toast and jam has never looked so good. As
mindfully as possible, I scoffed my toast and fruit salad. I then took
some time to enjoy my black ginger tea whilst admiring the pool and
grassy outdoors. I was completely calm and enjoying every second of just
I spent the afternoon walking along the seafront admiring
the beautiful coastal town Kovalam is. Westerners were lying on the
beach in bikinis which was an odd sight to see, but clearly accepted
here. Indian’s swimming fully clothed, in their saris and jeans, was
equally as odd for me. How vastly different cultures can be.
moseyed up to the red and white striped lighthouse which stood on the
edge of a far cliff. As a foreigner I have to pay three times what the
locals pay to walk go inside the lighthouse. Ridiculous! But ok. After
one scary vertical ladder climb to reach the very top of the lighthouse
(did I mention I’m scared of heights) I was speechless by how beautiful
the view was. Coloured homes drowned in coconut trees lined the beaches,
there were multiple coves and in the far distance was what looked like a
palace from Aladdin. It felt truly magical. I sat up there for some
time, just being present, enjoying everything about being up there. It’s
incredible what you notice when you just stop.
down, holding onto the rails for dear life, I walked along the beach
with my feet in the warm water. It was so lovely to be by the ocean. I
don’t tend to swim, but I do love the view of any beach. Hungry, I
stopped at Malabar on the oceanfront and ordered dal fry, coconut rice
and plain naan. An odd meal to have by the beach, but when in India! The
meal was divine, as was the view. I sat there for sometime, enjoying
not having to be anywhere, before walking to a lookout to watch the
sunset. By this time Kovalam was beginning to glow. There is such a
beautiful, relaxed atmosphere here which I really enjoy being a part of.
This evening has been spent committed to re-packing my pack -
which I did an awful job of the first time - and just relaxing in my
room before a big day tomorrow. My alarm is set for 5.00am to practice
yoga in my overly large room. I’m quite excited by this. It will be my
first proper self practice since finishing class on Monday. Nervous and
What a day. The energy of the day just felt off. From 4.30am in the morning when a friend from class pointed to a gathering at a home where someone had just passed, everything from then just felt uncomfortable. Chanting Om for half an hour this morning seemed easy when you realise you’re alive and breathing.
The exam was fine. I flew through it which was fantastic. There was the odd question I wasn’t sure of, but overall it was great.
I noticed during the exam Brittany wasn’t there but she arrived 20 minutes late, sniffling and and covering her head with her shawl. She was clearly upset. To be honest I thought she may not have passed the course and had just been told the news. I feel totally crap now that I know what really happened. After an Ayurveda class, which immediately followed the exam, Bharath told the class Brittany’s mother had passed away. The death was unexpected and happened while she was sleeping - as I understand. By the time Bharath told us, Brittany would have been on her way to Bangalore where she was booked to fly home to California at 8.00pm tonight. How terribly sad. I can’t even contemplate how she must be feeling right now. We sat in silence for a minute and chanted three Shanti’s for Brittany’s mother. The silence was deafening. We all felt sick with the news. How tragic.
After lunch with the group at the Royal Inn, as a mini celebration for finishing our studies (the group wanted to try and keep up their spirits), I rushed home to speak with Owen. A blubbering mess, we talked about life and death. How death can throw people into the present and remind them they only have now. At any time we could get a similar call, as morbid as it sounds. We just don’t know. My struggle to accept this fact makes it even more terrifying and I’m the typical westerner who tries to ignore this reality. But at the end of the day, this is the reality. None of us can stop it. I guess this is why I’m so committed to living my life how I dream. To follow my heart. To enjoy every moment to the fullest. Because at the end of the day, this is all I/we have. Moments.