Intentional Travel

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It was a thrill to be interviewed on Melanie Scott’s podcast: “Intentional Conversations” about the transformational potency of traveling in India. Click HERE to hear the full conversation.   In our 48 minutes together, we share our love of India and travel as well as reminisce about our two trips to India together and some of our favorite experiences in this magical country.

In India, one can experience the gamut: giddy laughter, loving kindness from strangers, heart connection, unexpected friendships, communion with cows, encounters with monkeys, blaring horns, sublime sunsets.

And for those of you who can’t listen to the whole interview, the take away is that India has a way of showing us who we are, deep inside, and bringing us home to our selves.  It is a heart-opening experience to travel to India.  I hope you will join me this November for Enlightened Tours’ Journey to India, 2019.

Enlightened Tours has curated an experience that delivers daily opportunities to connect deeply to your Self and others; giving you plenty of time to nurture and restore with yoga, meditation and Ayurveda. Group activities as well as time on the Ganges, swimming in waterfalls, hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas. Satsang with living saints. Stillness.

Join me!

 

Tuning In in India

In India, I experience the gamut: giddy laughter, loving kindness from strangers, heart connection, unexpected friendships, communion with cows, encounters with monkeys, blaring horns, sublime sunsets.

What I don’t think I have conveyed is the journey within to deep stillnessthe Gift of Presence – that has been my India.

Words really don’t do India justice, and I have a hard time putting some of my deepest emotions to words, so I have attached a short 90 second video of some very sacred moments that are forever dear to me.

The soundtrack is me “tuning in” with the Adi Mantra. Something we do at the beginning of every kundalini yoga class and meditation. I was chanting this mantra in the early hours of morning, when it’s still dark and the winds come roaring down the foothills of the Himalayas. I was tucked into a blanket and let the familiar chant ground me and connect me to the Golden Chain of my teachers, and connect me to my yoga mat. To my heart beat. If you listen carefully you can hear thumps and bumps in the background. They are monkeys having a morning romp before the warm midday sun makes them heavy lidded and lethargic.

I’ll be traveling back to this country, to this yoga hall, to one of my soul homes, in just a few short months. There are spots for 2 more people if you would like to join me.

We have curated a tour that delivers daily opportunities to connect deeply to your Self, to nurture and restore with yoga, meditation and Ayurveda. Time on the Ganges, swimming in waterfalls, hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas. Satsang with living saints. Stillness.

If you feel the call, contact me. I’m here to walk you through the details. Step by step.

Namaste,

Roxanna

Good Vibe Tribe

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“I love your Welcome Packet, but what is the actual ‘Vibe’ of this trip?”  the latest registrant of Enlightened India asked.

What a great opportunity for me to stop and think about how to answer this question.  How to best describe this journey to India I’m co-leading this November? It isn’t just a yoga trip. It isn’t a typical “group” tour, rolling up to sacred sites in a giant bus. It’s not a self-help retreat… those are all the things this trip is NOT.

I had a great conversation with my business partner and co-lead Julia, talking about what this trip IS.  Together, we came up with several words that we think speak to our trip’s vibe.  Here are a few:

Spacious – To truly be present, so far away from everything familiar.  To experience internal spaciousness.  10 days of self-exploration, with free time built into each day for deeper diving.

Loving – Julia and I are holding a loving container for our group.  From the moment your feet touch Indian soil, you will be warmly welcomed and lovingly held.   From the gentle morning meditation to the good night golden milk & cookies, each day has been thoughtfully planned with your sweetest Unfolding at heart.

Fun – So many special and wonderful things are being planned. Including Diwali in India – which is, in itself, a festive occasion filled with fireworks, treats and gifts. Many magical moments await you! Julia and I can hardly contain ourselves but we want to save some surprises!

Unique & Exclusive – Throughout our years of travel in India, we have been able to hand pick our favorite vendors, guides and experiences.  This trip incorporates the very best of who and what we love the most in India, and mixes in our own special offerings for a very special experience you won’t get with anyone else!

Stretch – Not only will you be stretching your body and having that opportunity twice a day with gentle yoga and Hatha flow, but you the individual will be stretched personally and spiritually.   Julia and I both remember what it was like to travel to India for the first time and we will be there holding that loving container to support you and make sure it doesn’t feel too overwhelming.

Flow – The Ganges River (Mata Ganga) reminds us to stay in the flow, stay present, and stay reverent to what IS.  You will have plenty of reminders not to become overly attached to outcomes, but to stay in the flow and enjoy your journey. India is the perfect teacher for this. We will have many beautiful ceremonies on (and in!) this most sacred river.

Connection – A group of men and women come together for 10 days in India, and through a series of shared exercises and experiences, we form a Tribe.  Together we co-create a supportive community that shares laughter and tears, personal triumphs and incredible adventures. Each one of you brings your own flavor to this group masala and we value your unique contribution to our community.

Self-Love Affair – India has a beautiful way of stripping away who we think we are and reminding ourselves what is actually at our core. Julia and I hold the intention that you will re-member aspects of yourself.  There will be a special ceremony held for reflection and appreciation for each group member.  We want you to return from this trip completely in love with yourself.

Something very special awaits you, I would love to have you join us!

Register HERE.
“Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ‘Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of your old life and into the new!” – Kenneth Grahame

Find Me in India

If I should die soon
Tell my children to look for me in India.

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In the prayer bells
Ringing out over the Ganges,
In the tablas beating their rhythm over the
loud speakers,
As the red sun melts into purple sky.

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Look for me on the sand bar in Benares
As the dogs creep closer to the fire.
To the ghee filled bowl burning brightly,
And the flower offerings bob drunkenly downstream.

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See me in the sari clad women sprinkling Ganga water on strangers, blessing them.

Let them feel my arms wrapping them in each soft shawl they try on, and every white dress they see.

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Sip me down in their lemon sodas, quenching their search.
Seek not but find me in the tuberose offering at Saraswati’s feet,
Or the monkey’s soft “coo coo” at their door.

Let them find joy in the calf’s jingle bells and the soft white spot on their foreheads.

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Step on the soft sand of Rishikesh and know
I was happy here.

-Roxanna Smith

I am going back to India this November!  Julia Myers Patterson and I are co-leading a group of men and women to Rishikesh, India this November for Diwali – the Hindu Festival of Light.  This is a dream come true for me to be able to experience Diwali in all its exuberance and share my passion for India with this group and to co-lead with Julia – a woman who holds space with such love and peace.  To learn more about the trip, see our Enlightened Tours website for all the details.

 

Go With The Flow…


Udaipur, November 2015.
Traveling in Udaipur. Early morning breakfast. Nice looking man nods good morning and asks waiter for coffee “now”. Soon he is talking to the two men eating breakfast with their baby. A conversation starts up and the coffee drinking man says he lives in Santa Cruz. The couple say they are from The Bay Area and one of them grew up in Santa Cruz. This gets my attention as I have just spent the last three years splitting my time between Boulder and Santa Cruz. I have to say something right!? Before you know it we are all sharing synchronistic connections and stories. The solo gentleman brings his wife up to join the party (by now we are all clustering around each other excitedly) and we share MORE common threads. “You worked at Levi’s? I did too!” “Your kids were born at Alta Bates? So was my daughter!” The end result is an invitation for all of us to dine together that evening for Thanksgiving dinner. One of the dads is Indian born and takes the initiative to find us the perfect Indian restaurant that serves traditional Indian thali – a platter with tiny metal bowls filled with delicious bites of delectable vegetarian fare. As plans are made and some of us disperse for showers or planned adventures, Kate and I finish our coffee/tea with the couple from Santa Cruz. They are talking about how they love their beach home – having lived there for a year after retiring and moving from the East Bay. They love the flowers, their garden, the Monterey Bay. And just like that, as we speak of dolphins and whales, I feel the tears start to sting my eyelids. Part of me thinks “Oh no, not here!” and part of me just notices the tears – no stopping them. Let them come.

Rishikesh, January 2015.

I began this year in India as a married woman. When friends hear I’m officially divorced, almost all of them say ” Wow that was so fast!” and I think to myself “Maybe for you.” I can see their point. I guess it does seem fast from the outside looking in.

I have never worked harder to keep a relationship going than this one. Ever. And somewhere along the line it started feeling like I was caught in a rip current and the water was going up my nose and pressing me hard but I kept holding on to a tree root and shouting “hang on!” All the while the waves were crashing into my face and I kept clinging. We were both exhausted. And at some point, in April to be exact, I let go.  This ending has been years in the making.

Rishikesh, December. 2015.

11 women are joining us in India. Like individual tributaries, they flow separately and we will all meet in Rishikesh tomorrow; joining together to form one Radiant Tribe. As I type, some of us are in the air, flying over the top of the world in an arctic airstream. This is the first time I have been in India as a single woman. I wonder, as I prepare for our group’s arrival, what lives for each of them – what stories do they have to share? All the individual flavors and colors of them – of all of us – that will soon blend together into a beautiful masala. A lot of our time together will be spent on the banks of the Ganges – in fire ceremony, bathing and making offerings to the river. Mata Ganga – Mother Ganges. The only Hindu goddess that takes the form of water, residing in Shiva’s matted locks, Ganga is fluid in her grace.

India 2015.

Always a land of powerful transformation for me. In my experience, the easiest way for me to traverse India – literally and figuratively – is to cultivate and maintain an attitude of surrender. No agenda. Magical experiences happen for me on days where I have no attachment to plans and I can flow from one experience to the next.

As my tears well up and spill out in Udaipur, grieving the loss of my ocean town, and another layer of grief regarding the end of my marriage, my new friends draw closer. The woman shares that she too mourns the loss of a relationship and even now, 20 years later, she can feel unexpected grief. As she tears up, her husband hands her a tissue. They invite me to visit them in CA. Generous with their compassion.

I can’t think of a better place for me to mark the end of this year than in Rishikesh. I never want to will a relationship into being again. Ever. I am finding that it’s easier to go with the current vs. hang on to the banks. The river that had been pummeling me over the past two years swept me up in its arms and carried me down, out of the froth and I floated. I’m on a rich and beautiful ride. Yes, sometimes it can get bumpy but it keeps moving and I lift up my feet so I can float better.

In the next 10 days I will be sitting in ceremony releasing that which no longer serves, washing away past experiences and baptizing myself anew – creating the next chapter of my life and witnessing and supporting our group to do the same.
I feel safe in the rhythm and flow of ever-changing life.  – Louise Hay

Grandfather, India

Grandfather, India

I was twenty six years old when I saw

the Himalayan Mountain range for the first time.

I remember how abruptly

it rose from the rice paddies like

a row of hands signaling “STOP!”

“You shall not pass here.”

There is a reason the Hindus believe

their gods reside in the these mountains.

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Only gods would smash a subcontinent into Asia

in an attempt to get the sky’s attention.

Only gods would pull the ether so close

and insist to be kissed by her.

It is the nature of gods to seek residence

in the openness of sky

and there I was flying in it,

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catching a bird’s eye peek of peaks

that seemed to stretch all the way back

to my grandfather’s gaze

the first time he told me these things existted.

In those days his eyes

were my airplane windows

and I, a limb of his Bodhi tree

understood that he had grown up

where the Buddha breathed.

He had lotus blossom hands

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His stories were prayer beads

he strung around my neck

so that he could pull me back

when he saw me drifting

too far from my purpose

For whatever reason,

he saw in me a need;

an aching for the sky

IMG_4741so he produced photo albums

full of beings who knew her best,

Sepia toned images of hands pressed

together in prayer

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Black and white photographs of monks

whose eyes arced like raven wings

gleefully taking to the wind

prayer wheels spinning

to the backdrop of India.

India

the cough of car horns choking

on exhaust, exhausting jaunts

through mazes of people

amazing in their arrangements

flowers arranged in doorsteps

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side stepping copious piles of cow shit

squatting to shit over holes that belched urine smells

smelling jasmine and sandalwood

would travel by rickshaw, plane, train, and taxi

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to watch Himalayan spine

unfurl in long stretches, morning stretching

over my yoga practice, bending over the jumbled

jenga of shoddy construction,

huddling over construction paper

giving crayons to children who’d never colored before

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The color of saris bleeding into vision

like high definition dye, homeless man

dying on the street corner, dead guy by the piss wall,

the 5am call to prayer, the prayer beads, beads of sweat

protesting intense humidity, the soft

swirl of the pilgrim’s hands in the Ganges

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stirring my memory

toward my grandfather

who came to me as if in a dream,

a beam of light planting a seed

that would grow to lead my back

to the land

of my awakening.

-Lyndsey McGuire

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Magical Mystery Tour

This story is about love, all the good ones are.  And forgiveness.  Before there was that, an incredible amount of wrong-doing happened, because it seems we always hurt the ones we love most, don’t we?  As I type on this wintry night in Colorado, the coyotes howl right outside my back door, the sky darkest ink on this new moon.  The last few months have been a blur – a kaleidoscope of beautiful experiences colliding into one another and creating a smear of bright colors.  I haven’t had the time to stop and fully reflect on each moment and give them the time they deserve.  Each experience is worthy of its own chapter, so perhaps this post is just an outline for future writings, each experience building upon the next and setting the stage.  Here goes the continuous stream of miracles:

December 11th, my 50th birthday.  Friends gathered and a book was presented to me, with photos and writings from loved ones.  My god-daughter fanning me in the native american tradition with a hawk’s wing, her beautiful mother holding the smoldering cedar.  That night, on that birthday, for whatever reason, I was able to receive all the love directed my way and feel full.

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Early January,  Varanasi, India – under a full moon, on a sandbar in the Ganges, sitting with friends and strangers around a fire, I chant prayers for others, for my family, for myself, and make offerings with sweets, flowers and incense.  Of all my experiences in India, this remains one of the most generous and beautiful ones and I come back to it in my mind again and again.  I am not always given the gift of knowing how special something is in the moment, and this was one of those moments, one to remember and re-tell.

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Mid January, Rishikesh, India I dipped in the frigid waters of Mata Ganga (Mother Ganges) with my 80 year old mother.  The night before I had led our group through a Kundalini yoga kriya called the Hour of Your Death and the next morning I led us in a rebirthing.  Smiles were wide, hearts were light and my mother and I embraced in the yoga room as everyone danced to Here Comes The Sun by George Harrison.  My birth had not been an easy one 50 years prior and this day felt like a do-over for both of us.  We all took our newly born selves down to the water for a dip.  There was a chilly fog that made things look even more mystical than they already felt.  I felt like daughter and mother all in one, watching over my mother gripping the chain in the rushing water.  We submerged, coming up baptized.

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Early February, Boulder, Colorado.  My daughter came home for the first time in 10 months.  The breath I had been holding all this time, slowly exhaled as I felt her presence once again in my house, heard her voice, followed her trail of clothes.  She was home for a family occasion, the Bar Mitzvah of my son, her brother.  Family and friends came to witness this rite of passage.  My children’s father and I, divorced now for 11 years, put aside old quarrels and came together, united in our love for our children.  My husband (of almost 10 years) and I shyly presented ourselves at a family dinner where I would see friends and relatives that I hadn’t seen or spoken to since the divorce.  Both grandfathers have died in the past 11 years and they were honored and spoken of.  Both grandmothers are alive and well and graced us with their presence.  In front of the congregation and our community, I released my baby and blessed him into manhood.  Symbolic of course, but powerfully potent like all ritual can be.  I felt it.  He did too.

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Last weekend, family therapy at my daughter’s school.  My ex-husband, my husband, my daughter and son and me.  We all showed up with vulnerability and an unflinching commitment to do our work.  There were moments of despair, pain, tears and also such compassion and tenderness.  The weekend was deep and hard.  The weekend was light and  full of love.  Forgiveness was the oil that kept us all on track, even if sometimes we looked like the most sorry-assed jalopy on the lot.  On the last night, before I had to leave, I held my daughter for over an hour, stroking her hair and singing to her.  Rearranging my DNA.  Deeply comforting.  Another rebirth.  Our own ceremony.

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Find Me in India

If I should die soon
Tell my children to look for me in India.

In the prayer bells
Ringing out over the Ganges,
In the tablas beating their rhythm over the
loud speakers,
As the red sun melts into purple sky.

Look for me in the Varanasi sand bar
As the dogs creep closer to the fire.
In the ghee filled bowl burning brightly,
And the flower offerings bobbing drunkenly downstream.

See me in the sari clad women sprinkling Ganga water on strangers, blessing them.

Let them feel my arms wrapping them in each soft shawl they try on, and every white dress they see.

Sip me down in their lime sodas, quenching their search.
Seek not but find me in the tuberose offering at Saraswati’s feet,
Or the monkey’s soft “coo coo” at their door.

Let them find joy in the calf’s jingle bells and the soft white spot on their foreheads.

Step on the soft sand of Rishikesh and know
I was happy here.

-Roxanna Smith

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One Day in Varanasi

My morning started at 5. I awoke early to partake in a tourist ritual of a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges. As I lay in my bed, part of me wondered why I had wanted so badly to come to Varanasi. It had been a long travel adventure to reach here – with some of the worst driving and shady driver experiences I had ever had in India. Part of me wanted to catch a plane back to a safe and familiar place. The other part of me knew that this is India. She tips me over and uproots me from all that is known. I always feel like I am in outer space and my loved ones are so very very far away. I have learned to ‘notice’ the feelings and stay with them. I remember a friend gently and wisely telling me “You don’t have to always like India.” And so I rose, got dressed and went into the smokey dark to meet our friend and guide and get on the boat.

The “sunrise” never really happened because there was a bank of clouds, but the view from the water of the ghats (stairs) and the city and the people and dogs, cows etc all sharing space on the river was fascinating. Men and women bathing (separately), laundry drying, dogs fighting, bodies burning, Muslim temple bells ringing, sadhus posing for a professional photo shoot with magnifying screens (for real) – it was all surreal.

As our boat approached the main burning ghat, I could see the billows of white smoke rising up. It’s forbidden (rude) to take photos so I was fully present and taking it all in. It’s hard to describe the mountains of wood – this is a 24 hour burning ghat so bodies are burning day and night. There are swarms of men scurrying about bringing more wood, dumping ash into heaps, putting more kindling under the bodies. The buildings closest to the fire are black with centuries of smoke – making the place look like a scene from the darkest movie. Dogs are curled up in the piles of ash to keep warm.

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Our boat was front and center, very close and I watched a body, wound in white ceremonial cloth, as it started to burn. I saw the cloth burn away and I could see the man’s feet turn dark and blister in the heat. As close as I get to death in my hospice work, this was a new level of intimacy I have never experienced.

I feel that it will take me days to process this experience, perhaps longer. This city holds an intensity that is hard to describe, as feels right and natural given that death is front and center amidst a city so alive and busy. The contrast is at once dumbfounding and inspiring.

I went back to my hotel to rest and warm up and prepare for the evening’s full moon ceremony Melanie and I had planned. I was feeling drained and tender.

When I first asked friends and family to send me their prayer requests so that I could release them on the Ganges, I never imagined the depth of sweetness I would experience reading people’s heart felt prayers. I was and still am so touched by the honesty and rawness of some of them as well as the good kind hearted earnestness of them as well. What beautiful friends I know who are wanting to make the world and themselves better.

Melanie and I sat in prayer and meditation. Later we bathed and dressed in ritual white. We met Somit, our friend and organizer of the ceremony and he led us to our boat. The boat man and priests and a curious traveler from the UK were already in it. We rowed across the river to the sandbar in the middle. There we got out and waded (yes I put my bare feet in the river in Varanasi) to the sand.

In the twilight we entered into ceremony, making offerings of rice, sandal wood, flowers and coins to Hindu deities and the 9 planets. Prayers for our ancestors, our beloveds, the group of women who will be joining us in a few short days – all were offered to the fire.

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As the huge orange full moon rise in the purple sky (India has a way of blowing you away with her beauty) and the sky darkened, dogs crept closer to us, smelling the offerings of food we had. As the priests chanted the centuries old Sanskrit mantras, I closed my eyes and thought to myself “This is why I am in Varanasi. For this moment in time.”

Our boat rowed back across the river as the full moon cast her light across the river and our ritual fire burned on the shore as the dogs gently picked up the small burning dishes and overturned them in the sand to eat the ghee inside.

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Rishikesh – River of Love, part 2

I wrote about bringing Lance’s ashes to Varanasi and how powerful that was for me to release them into the river.

Now on to Rishikesh, a lotus of a place, nestled on the banks of the Ganges, in northern India.  The water is cool and clean, with sandy swaths of beach and many ashrams and temples along its edge.  There is something very peaceful and sweet about this small city and the slower pace is a welcome retreat.

Beautiful Rishikesh from Laxman Jula bridge
Beautiful Rishikesh from Laxman Jula bridge

When we arrived at our hotel, our amazing host, Govind Agarwal, had arranged for our group to have a special blessing by priests.  As each of us entered the yoga room, we were given a special necklace of marigolds as the priests chanted.

Priests

Red paste and grains of rice were put on our foreheads and prayers were offered to Durga (the mother of us all), Ganesha (the remover of all obstacles) and Shiva (Destroyer of Ego and one who sits in deep meditation.)  One group member said she felt “home” as soon as she heard the powerful chanting of the priests.  The acoustics of the yoga room made me feel as if the mantras were vibrating through my chest cavity and opening my heart.

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Shiva, Durga and Ganesha

Have you ever said “yes!” to something because you felt it in your body, even though you had no idea what it was?  Months ago, back in the US, Govind had suggested having a ceremony for our ancestors on the banks of the Ganges.  Ever since he mentioned it, I became instantly attached to having it.  In fact, during the entire trip in India, my intention was to cultivate an attitude of surrender in all things, which I accomplished for the most part, but I stubbornly remained attached – like a barnacle on a wooden boat! – to 3 things:  the sunrise boat ride in Varanasi (which didn’t happen, so obviously I need to go back), the ceremony for our ancestors, and the dipping in the Ganga.

The morning of the ceremony, Govind walked us down the marble steps that literally disappear into the river.  The 3 priests were waiting for us accompanied by various bathers, curious onlookers and sadhus.  We took our seats on the marble, facing the river.

The priests put sandalwood paste across our forehead.   We offered prayers and offerings to the river, giving thanks for those that had come before us, honoring our lineage and speaking our ancestors’ names aloud.

I had brought a small vial with me – the remains of my beloved grandparents ashes – unsure of whether I would be willing to part with the last physical remnants of them.  As I prayed,  I knew with an inner wisdom that in the releasing of this ash, I was surrendering to the pulse of the universe, letting energy go into the flow of the river.  “Harold…Hazel” I said out loud as the priest poured milk into the jar and I tipped it into the river.  For the rest of the day, I experienced an uplifting of the spirit that was tangible and a peace I usually only feel after meditating.

Days later, Govind’s lovely wife, Bindia, graciously accompanied us to an area of the Ganges where we would dunk in the river.  The symbolism differs for everyone, but for me, it was an opportunity to “baptize” myself – to submerge myself 7 times, one for each chakra, in the holy river of unconditional love.  To cleanse myself of my sins, and to be born anew.  Returning to India, and bringing a group of women to India, had been a dream.  Now it was time to recognize that I had realized a dream come true and honor that part in me that had heard the call and said yes to it.  To realize that there are endings and also beginnings in a pilgrimage to India.  I was consciously saying ‘goodbye’ to aspects of myself, and experiences from the past 2 years.  In submerging in the river, I was also saying ‘yes’ to whatever was wishing to be born in me – perhaps aspects or ideas that I am not even aware of yet consciuosly, but the seeds have been planted.

Several of us were called to dunk in the river that morning and it was a powerful experience for all of us.  Much gratitude to Bindia who held our hands (with teeth chattering!) as each of us took the plunge.  Afterwards, we lit incense and made offerings to the river in thanks for her willingness to take us – the shadow and the light – and wash away our impurities and leave us refreshed and renewed.

I have so much gratitude for this journey and for all the ways I was able to be in sacred ceremony with the holiest of rivers – Mata Ganga – the Mother Ganges.  Sharing these experiences with this group of women has made it more potent for me and these memories live on in my heart and mind.  And oh Mother India,  I will return!  Deep bow.

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last night boat ride