Well, I made it through the night. No ghosts. Owen is interstate for the next few days which means it’s just me and my guard dogs – my pugs. Whilst I might appear all independent woman… the reality is I still sleep with a night-light. I’m terrified of the dark. And yes, I’m very away I should get counseling for this.
Our family has suffered a number of losses over the years, one of those losses being my elder brother. A twin to my sister. I also grew up in a house we all believe to be haunted. We’ve all had too many unusual experiences happen to convince us otherwise. This was our family home and my father refuses to leave it. I know I shall never spend another night in that place for as long as I live. If it were up to me, it would be leveled.
So having experienced a lot of death in my lifetime, I have some very deep psychological issues when it comes to ghosts and fear of hauntings. Whilst I’m very aware of how crazy and irrational this all sounds, and I have had therapy to address these fears, they are so deeply ingrained that I can’t imagine ever feeling comfortable in the dark, alone. At the end of the day, my mind is wanting to play tricks on me and I need to make a conscious effort not to allow that to happen. But my goodness it’s difficult. So last night, the entire house was lit up like a Christmas tree so that if I needed to go into a room I don’t need to look into a dark room first before switching on the light. I can already see in. Silly, I know!
This leads me to another point though. I mentioned earlier how my family has experienced a lot of death and tragedy over the years. Well, there is nothing more blatant about how finite life is than being faced with death. There is a Buddhist meditation called the Death Meditation. As morbid as this sounds, you do this by visualizing your death. That this is your last day on Earth. You start to look at what is meaningful for you, what you wished you’d spent more time doing, or less time doing, the dreams you wished you’d pursued but never did, the phone calls to your mother to tell her you love her just one more time, the mending of a rift between you and a sibling. You begin to notice what is actually important in your life and what is just fear, or pride or excuses holding you back. When we wake up to these realizations, we develop a confidence to go after what is important for us, because we have been reminded that we sadly do not have much time to do so. I come to this place daily.
I live every day knowing it could be my last. I wake up so grateful for what I have in my life. My snoring pugs beside the bed, my snoring Owen beside me too (he’s going to kill me for that one)… my students, teachers…. my family as crazy as everyone is. I love them all and miss them terribly. To have food in the cupboards, money to pay rent and a warm home. The smell of incense, the candle burning below Ganesha’s feet in my living room… these are all simple things but they are things which mean so much to me. That I know if I didn’t have them in my life then life would feel so empty.
So whilst I’m scared of the dark and more afraid of ghosts than I am humans (badies) coming into my home, I’ve used these fears and my experiences with death to my advantage. To remain grateful that I am here. Alive. Well and with possibilities all around for as long as I shall be on this Earth.
Life is short people. Live it to the full, even if you need to put on a few extra lights in the house to give a boost of confidence.
I’ve been struggling to write lately. I don’t know what that’s about? I’ve been finding myself getting caught up in the busy work of business that I’m not taking time out for just…me. Whilst my morning yoga ritual is a given, there is something profoundly special about journaling or blogging. I tend to get so wound up in my head at times that this space offers me an avenue of letting everything out. Whatever comes to mind. That’s exactly what I’m doing write now. I don’t plan these blogs. Rather, they come as I feel ready to explore whatever is going on for me. And following a busy week and reflecting on why I’m feeling a little more tired than normal, I’ve come to realize a big part of that has been due to not journaling as I regularly do.
I began journaling as a little girl. Before bed each night I would write in the journal that I placed on the bookshelf above my head. I wanted to keep a record of my days and how I felt that day. What I did that day. I dabbled with journaling on and off as I grew up, but I use to get so frustrated when I felt forced to write about my day. I placed pressure on myself to note every single detail of my day because I feared forgetting these memories. Turns out, this is not the most effective way of journaling or blogging. It wasn’t until I gave myself the freedom to just write absolutely anything that popped into my mind - coherent or not, legible or the artwork equivalent of a two year old – that I began to experience the true power and joy of journaling. When I gave myself this freedom, journaling became not too dissimilar to meditation. I was giving my mind a chance to let it all out. The to-do lists, the conversations, the worries, the joys, the what-the-hell-do-I-do-next dead end thoughts… All of it was flowing out onto the page (my preference is a hand written journal), freeing my mind from the mental chatter that it’s so good at holding onto. It is often through this approach to journaling and blogging that I have my most profound realisations – about myself, my relationships, my business… It’s like a thick fog gets lifted every single time I put pen to paper.
So as I write this now, I’m working out (as I go) why I’m feeling a little run down this weekend and I now realize a huge part of this is because I didn’t commit to my regular ritual of journaling every morning. It’s not helpful to get frustrated with myself for this, but I often stop and wonder why I choose not to do the things that I know helps me most – journaling being one of them? I guess we all do this right? With what we eat, drink, when we go to bed, how much exercise we do. I guess this is part of our journey. We just need to make sure we don’t beat ourselves up when we fall off the wagon and instead dust ourselves off and jump back on.
I don’t have any special way of trying to end this post. Whilst proper writing would require a summary or conclusion of some sort – as you all know by now, I’m not a proper writer. Just an honest one who is sharing insights into my life that may or may not interest you. That you may or may not resonate with. If you do – great. If you don’t, oh well. Nothing lost.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I’m not sure how to help people out of different ruts we’re get ourselves into. My only suggestion could be to try what I try – and that is to stop, sit, be still and think. Extend the pause and then when you feel ready, write. Anything and everything that comes to mind. There is knowledge from this place.
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.
As I write this I am listening to the sound of glorious rain. The second time it has rained since being in Mysore. This first was about a month ago for a couple of hours only. Whilst singing my favourite slow, almost sad, evening chant with Bharath’s wife, the thunder began giving hints of what was to come, followed by lighting and then a sudden, almost explosive opening up of the skies. The rain bucketed down for the next half hour. We then sat in the dark, starring at the flame of a candle (for our usual evening Trakata kriya/meditation) all the while listening to the rain pour and the thunder roll. It created such an eerie yet almost magical atmosphere. The streets were dark as power was off all through Mysore. Only those homes and buildings with generators remained lit. One was certainly very careful walking home in the pitch black with crazy Mysorian drivers around. Definitely an evening to remember.
There were so many things which happened today that I wanted to recount. But I shall select only a couple or I could be here all night and I have an exam to study for (it’s tomorrow).
Time for subtitles.
At 4.40am I was standing outside the Shala and ready to prepare myself for our morning meditation then asana practice. With new cotton mat in hand, I was ready to give it a test run. This morning was a little different to normal. Usually the Shala is well lit as we enter, however today it was in complete darkness with only a faint red spotlight shining on the huge Om which is painted on the back wall. The feeling of the room was instantly calm and sacred. I totally forgot we were doing Om meditation this morning so I moved myself to the back of the room with all the others when I noticed everyone back there.
Bharath entered the Shala at 5.00am on the dot and quietly sat behind us all – directly behind me in fact. In complete darkness, we all sat motionless starring at Om and then chanting Om together – over and over and over for half an hour. Ommmmmm, Ommmmmm, Ommmmmm, Ommmmmm…. It’s amazingly calming but I swear I thought I was hallucinating at one stage. The vortex Om is painted in just drew me in. And then there was quite a substantial amount of time where I sat hating the meditation, worried I was going to be chanting Om for the rest of my life, in this agonizing pain my back and hips were in. Knowing Bharath was behind me also meant I didn’t dare move my legs. I was terribly distracted. I went from focused to not focused over and over and over again. Who would have thought sitting perfectly still and chanting Om for half an hour would be such a struggle! We will do this for the rest of our mornings here, and on Saturday, we will do it for 1 hour before our Surya Namaskara Marathon straight after. God help me.
After out mid morning class which takes us through to lunch, a gorgeous (personality and beauty) Iranian woman who is training with us, stopped me outside as she wanted to tell me something. We’ve never spent much time together so I had no idea what she was going to say. She told me she has always admired how much I enjoy everything about my training. She said she watches me all the time – in asana practice, in philosophy, student lectures, chanting etc – and she can see how much I love being there. And even though I find something challenging or struggle to learn something, for example an asana and how to correctly adjust, she has noticed that I still manage to be completely present, smile and still enjoy the process. She said I inspire her to be the same way. That even if she is finding something challenging, to always try and stay positive and enjoy. This completely blew me away. What a lovely thing to say to someone. She may never know how much that meant to me, but it is something I shall carry with me always. I think about my previous life in the corporate world. I never had this same passion. It took from me. But it’s also made me appreciate this new path, these new choices, so much more. Those experiences shaped who I am today and I now feel truly lucky for the path I have been led down.
Contrary to this conversation, unfortunately I ended up eating lunch with some other students who were having a completely oppostie conversation. Long story short, all they were doing was complaining. They don’t like listening to Bharath, they don’t like philosphy classes etc etc. I couldn’t believe how negative they were being. I just kept quiet and ate my lunch rather than getting involved in this crap conversation. It was as though they had listened to nothing about what yoga fundamentally is - the control of the mind, having an open mind, acceptance… I honestly felt/feel sad for them because those attitudes are stopping them from enjoying their time here. It’s all about perception. If you want to enjoy, you will. If you want to experience no pain, you can. If you want to sit chanting Om for 1 hour motionless - it can be done! Our minds are the hardest things to control, but it is within our control still. So choose differently. Choose better. Be open to experiences rather than closed. Then wisdom will come.
My final point - I used my new cotton mat this morning. Turns out I was the most stable I have ever been in Sirsasana - splitting my legs, twisting my body from side to side with heels touching, lowering my legs parallel to the ground - and this is all because my arms weren’t sliding out from under me. Great investment!
As the mat smelt of chemicals, I decided to wash it after class. Then tonight, mid way through class as I was beginning to slip, I rolled it out and it turns out I now have only 70% of the mat I had this morning. Looks like a good 30% shrank in the wash! I officially have the most anorexic cotton yoga mat in the class, and possibly anywhere - but hey, it’s India! Rather than get annoyed, I just laughed. Just another unique thing about this place. Nothing is perfect which is such a great way to be. As long as its wider than my feet, it shall still do the job. Haha.
Ok, time to study. Thanks for reading and remember to keep smiling. It will change your world for sure.
Special moments from my day
He was so proud to have his picture taken with his orange
6.30am I arrived in Bogadi. The sun was yet to rise and I’m already sitting, waiting to see the famous Amma - ‘Mother of the World’. It was recommended by another yoga student, who met Amma last year, I arrive early as I needed to get a token to see Amma. Knowing there would thousands of people here to see her today, and finding out she will be giving hugs until about 1.00am the following morning, I decided I would take the advice and come ultra early. Let’s just say, that advice was not exactly correct. But I will come the that in a bit. Surprisingly, there were large numbers of people beginning to arrive at this crazy time also - for Amma and also other ceremonies which were to be completed prior to her arrival at 11.30am.
Walking into a huge shed across the way from Amma’s temple and ashram, with blue time slip in hand (required before you can get a token - you exchange one for the other later in the day), I moved to the front where people were chanting a buddhist chant. The deep guttural sound of the 5 or so men on stage chanting was almost a little unnerving. One can certainly see how you can enter into a sort of hypnotic state whilst focusing on this one repeated sound.
A group of helpers were working to place mini ceramic bowls full of oils, incense and other small offerings onto each chair for the next ceremony which was to take place. The poonja (I think). As I was coaxed into paying to attend this ceremony, I sat with my little chair of offerings in front of me and decided to join in. I had no idea what was being said, but by copying what others were doing, I was able to follow along. Each item on my chair had a special purpose: I circled the flame in the oil around my chest and head three times, then the leaf with a small offering was circled around my crown three times, I dipped my small leaf into the single pot of oil and dripped this into the top of the terra cotta pot about 50 times (as this was done in time with a chant they repeated over and over), I near set myself on fire when I lit the little kerosene cube (which had a dangerous resemblance to a sugar cube), and then coated my entire body in the smoke of the burning incense stick and fumes from that little sugar cube. At other times I stood and turned in circles three times. Why? I don’t know?
To complete the ceremony, everyone carried their little terra cotta pot in their right hand on top of their head to Amma’s temple across the way. In a line of about 500 or so people, it took a while before I reached the temple to do whatever it was people were doing with their pots. With shoes off, I eventually entered the small temple steps where I then had a better view of what was going on. Inside the temple, on a small platform, men dressed in white linen robes were throwing the water of all the pots onto a statue which sat in the middle of the platform. It was a little dark in there and I couldn’t see what the statute was. All I knew is it was something important to all these people so I was happy to respect the tradition and offer my bowl of water and oil to the shrine also.
People were pushing their way through to have their pots taken from them and offered to the God within (I’m assuming), so I learned early on this morning that it’s important to be a little pushy also. Otherwise, I’m getting nowhere! As I walked out of the temple area I was sprinkled with water from the bristles of a tree branch, handed a small edible offering (which i haven’t dared eat), and given some die to put on my forehead. Quite an experience.
With hours to kill until Amma arrived, I decided to find a toilet. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of traditional Indian style toilets…. Not only is it a hole in the ground, but it’s like a bath in there. I nearly died when I saw women walking in bare foot. Oh, it’s a different world to what I know. Not saying mine is better - I just know this isn’t exactly a comfortable experience. But, it’s an experience nonetheless!
I sat in the isle where Amma would walk as she enters the huge shed turned temple we were in. In preparation for Amma’s arrival, a human barricade of people holding hands was created - about 70 or more metres at least. I was a part of this barricade, and found it to be quite a fun experience. The excitement in the room was beginning to grow. We were, however, holding hands for about 30 minutes prior to her arrival as I think someone got over excited and gave the cue a little early! And then before we knew it, surrounded by another barricade of people all dressed in white, Amma powered past me headed for the stage.
Sitting on a round pedestal on stage, Amma opened the session with one hours worth of singing. The first three songs were really exciting for me, but then it just became quite tiring to listen to. I was starting to dwindle by this point as I had already been there for over 6 hours. Next came another two or so hours of preaching (which I didn’t understand a word of) followed by meditation. Although I appreciated being in Amma’s presence, I was a little over it by this time. The ceremony seemed to go on forever. I was also a little concerned I was going to be one of the poor people who has to wait until 1.00am the next day for my moment with Amma. For as it turns out, there was no need to come early and get a ticket. There was no order whatsoever when it came to exchanging the ticket for the token. Ridiculous.
When that time did come (to get my token - which is a letter and number of the alphabet, e.g. B5), the entire place erupted into a mosh pit of people scrambling to find one those men who were handing out the tokens. It really was a matter of first in best dressed with getting a token. But then I noticed the people handing them out were selectively giving people tokens in the Z category or the G category - whatever they felt like it seemed! The Z people will be there all night.
With my new skills of pushing, I pushed my way through masses of crazy people to a man who eventually agreed to exchange my ticket. I ended up with G1. I was devastated. This meant I was going to be there for another 3-4 hours waiting for my hug. This would not do. So, in Indian fashion, I asked around about how to exchange this token for one which was earlier in the queue. Although told I could not change it, I was determined to find a way. I was directed to a man in an orange robe who was a helper of Amma’s. I explained I had been at the temple since 6.30am this morning and would really appreciate if there was a way to see Amma sooner. After some clarification of what I was asking, (as I think the man was originally trying to pretend like he didn’t know what I was saying), he exchanged my token for C5. Magic! I was instantly taken into the queue and within 30 minutes my face was in Amma’s breasts!
The chaos surrounded Amma up on stage. She had many helpers around her, which made this confined space that much more overwhelming. But the energy getting close to Amma was incredible. Knowing I was finally going to meet this woman, even though just for a moment, was certainly exciting and a little nerve racking. I noticed she hugged some people ever so briefly whilst others she would hold tightly, almost appearing as though they were being suffocated. Whilst holding people she would be talking to her helpers before kissing the hugged person on the head and sending them on their way.
After having my forehead patted down to remove any sweat before hugging Amma, a man in an orange robe to Amma’s left (my right) asked what language I spoke. I’m not sure why as it made no difference to how I was spoken to? Then, before I knew it, I was suddenly grabbed from behind the head by Amma herself and pulled into her right breast. And there I stayed for the next 20-30 seconds or so. I’m not sure why she held me for so long, but it was certainly nice to have the extra attention.
The gift Amma gave me: A little lolly and some red dye. I’m also holding flowers a helper gave me which Amma had touched and used in her
Amma’s hug was not what I expected. She smelled of fresh flowers and her clothes were soft silk. She held my head tightly toward her and in those moments I knew no one could touch me. I was a little awkward though. I wasn’t quite sure where to put my hands, whether to put more weight toward her… I was a little overwhelmed really. I began creeping my arms around her plump waist and returned the hug. But again, I was a little unsure what to do! I was also expecting to be pushed away sooner but I kept hearing her muffled voice, as my ears were squished, talking to the people around her. Was she aware I was down there? Or was the conversation more important? Was she talking about me? Who knows? After this short while she then pulled me slightly away from her chest, whispered something into my right ear in Hindu (I’m assuming), kissed my head and then released me. I was then just another one of the masses of people trying not to fall over the thin railing of the stage as people pushed their way to her.
One of Amma’s helpers, a Frenchman who I met during the ceremony, ushered me to go and sit on the stage behind Amma for sometime. To take in the energy from there. So I did. It was a much calmer feeling being behind Amma, knowing i didn’t have to wait until the early hours of the morning to see her and could now just observe. I watched on for about 20-30 minutes or so before it was time to allow others to sit on the stage also. I also had a chance to watch some young children perform traditional Indian dances on the other side of the stage, which was quite beautiful to see.
After all of this, I was ready for home. Starving and in need of a toilet, a western toilet preferably, it was time to go.
Upon reflection of today, of course I am glad I went. It was an experience like no other. What I feel is unfortunate, however, is how people are treating Amma as though she is God herself. I don’t think this is how she sees herself at all but the followers look to her as though she is this divine, supernatural power. In my opinion, this almost weakens her teachings. I can relate to the human but not the God, if that makes any sense?
Essentially, Amma preaches that people must look within to know thy Self. That there is nothing external which will ever help someone to achieve this knowledge, and if we rely on the external world then we shall always suffer from unhappiness. Love and compassion is another big concept she preaches about. But supernatural powers are not who or what she is. Not from what I could gather. Yet so many westerners (who made up 70% or more of her helpers today) seem to kiss the floor she walks on, looking to her in this way. I respect this powerful woman for the messages she is bringing to the world. Good messages full of truths. But, I cannot look at her like she is a Goddess. Should I? Am I missing something? I feel I can appreciate her teachings without having to become completely obsessed by her unlike so many others - so it seems. Each to their own I guess.
So, if ever Amma is in town and you want to go and see her, my recommendation is to arrive just prior to the ceremony, get your ticket and then brace yourself for the moment when you exchange your ticket for a token. Use elbows if needed, because I can guarantee everyone else will be!
Thank you Amma for our moment today. It was one which will remain with me for a lifetime.