10 Songs for the nervous system during COVID-19 quarantine in the United States
True Confession – I always wanted to be a Spiritual DJ. Well…I am a Spiritual DJ, I just don’t spin anywhere. But I love making playlists for friends and picking out the music at parties and events, creating an experience through sound.
Today I put 10 songs together that are peaceful and calming in a groovy kind of way. Music to move sweetly around the house to. From room to room, enjoying the inner space.
1-Breathe Deep (featuring East Forest), Ritual Mystical – MC Yogi
2-Alone in Kyoto, Talkie Walkie – Air
3-Gentle Awakening (Instrumental Meditation with Bamboo Flute, Kalimba & Nature Sounds, Call Within – Manose
4-Manipura, Chakra Flow: for Yoga & Meditation, Suzanna Sterling & Christopher Krotky
5-Les Fleurs, Come to My Garden – Minnie Ripperton
6-Saroja Part 1, Yatri – Prem Joshua
7-Zionsville, The Universe Smiles Upon You – Khruangbin
8-Free, Gonna Take a Miracle: The Best of Deniece Williams – Deniece Williams
9-Summer Madness, Light of Worlds – Kool & The Gang
Every day I wake up and read the New York Times on my phone. I read the California edition. Almost every day there are stories about the housing crisis in this state; the rising cost of homes and people living on the streets. Today the news has stories of fires burning and evacuations. And I am reading with a broken heart about the families that are separated at our border – the children in cages, the mom’s in jail, fleeing violence in their countries, hoping for a better life. Taking that chance. It is almost more than my brain and heart can process.
I see friends on Facebook imploring others not to go to sleep. Stay outraged! I agree. Let us not turn our backs on humanity and go numb. At the same time, let us not beat ourselves up if we cannot be on the front lines. Look into your heart and ask yourself what can you do right now? Are you able to write a check? Can you make phone calls to your senators? Are you able to sit in meditation and offer positive energy to those that suffer? Can you be extra loving and kind to the people in your life? Can you take impeccable care of yourself so that you have energy and resources when you get called to action? I donate. I pray. I sign petitions. I teach preschool. I try to facilitate and support concepts of love and kindness.
This conversation is taken verbatim from an interaction I witnessed last week. It happened between 2 boys, one age 4 and one age 5, after feelings were hurt and they were having a conversation using the “Peace Flower” which is kind of like a talking stick, only it’s a talking . It went like this:
Boy age 4: (while holding the peace flower) I wish I could wun as fast as you. (hands peace flower to other boy)
Boy age 5: Well, I run fast because I practice at home. Maybe if you practice you can get faster. (hands peace flower back to 4 year old)
Boy age 4: But, but, but…I wun and fall and you keep going. I want to be fast like you.
Me: Does it hurt your feelings when your friend runs fast and you can’t catch up?
Boy age 4: Yes. (hands peace flower to other boy)
Boy age 5: I bet you will get faster when you practice. I have a good idea! Let’s be on the same team and run together at the same time! (holds out peace flower and they both hold the stem and say in unison: Friends. And run off to play. Except Boy age 4 says “Fwends”) Peace on the playground has been restored.
I was relaying this story to a friend yesterday and we were laughing at how sweetly transparent children can be. They have all the emotions that adults have but the feelings move transparently across their faces like clouds blowing across a wide open sky. No place to hide. Every day there are tears, laughter, shouts of glee, angry scowls, hugs.
When I have hurt feelings, I do my best to hide it and stew for a few weeks – er…awhile and then become full of dread and eventually have a conversation with the person. Usually the conversation goes well and we are both relieved afterwards. Wouldn’t it be great if I could handle it immediately and we could both hold the peace flower for a few moments and then skip off happily?
Every day I go to work wondering what the day will bring. The work is so dynamic! There is no template for an “average” day. Working with children is a constant invitation to stay present – to keep my heart open, not look at my phone (which is tucked away in a cabinet for the entire day), literally get on my knees, make eye contact, speak kindly, be of service, be loving and gentle, hold boundaries, rub backs, give hugs. It’s like spiritual boot camp 😉 Truly. These little gurus are ninjas at testing limits/boundaries. If I take it personally, I’m a goner. They are also human love bombs who offer affection and acceptance freely and often. You’d think a rock star was arriving some days when I arrive – all the faces and arms waving at the window “Roxanna! Roxanna!” Sometimes I have to use the back door so I don’t start a riot and disrupt the class. Haha.
I am grateful to the Universe for bringing me to this present moment, this job, this life, these kids. Being a preschool teacher stretches me in myriad ways while simultaneously nourishing me and feeding my heart. As GuruGanesha Band sings in their song, Troubled Times:
In this troubled time we look to find the way. To heal our world, heal our hearts. In our confusion when we don’t know what to do, can we live for each other? Come Together For Each Other.
“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
I know many people are feeling overwhelmed with everything they are reading and hearing about in the news. Whether I am discussing the natural disasters, or the latest events in the United States, every conversation I have with friends revolves around what we can do, how we can help. I had tea with a friend of mine, a retired attorney and fellow yogi, who said “I didn’t used to believe in evil.” and paused for a moment, calmly picking up croissant crumbs with his fingers, “Now I do.” Things are feeling pretty dire – more than usual. Is this just me? I wonder… I am deeply saddened by recent happenings in the world (both natural and human) and I also believe that we are greater than this and that LOVE conquers all.
I have written before about Yogi Bhajan‘s prophecy that the world’s hectic pace will only continue to increase and many people will be overwhelmed – on all levels – and not know how to keep up with the chaotic energies. He went on to say that a third of the world’s population would die, a third would go nuts and the last third would be left to hold it all together. There are times when this prophecy feels like it has come true and it’s my choice to decide which third of the population I want to be a part of.
The day this picture (above) was taken, I had just driven 500+ miles in very challenging driving conditions: high winds, forest fires and driving rain for several hours. I was driving a 22 feet van that I was not wholly comfortable with and even hydroplaned a few times. When I finally pulled into the RV park, my legs were shaking. I then proceeded to get into a huge argument with my daughter who left to stay with a friend for the evening. I called a friend and sobbed. After the cry, I felt…so much better. Lighter. Less alone. Normally, I like to cry in private and talk to friends after I’ve had my breakdown. I made a conscious decision to let myself be seen in my tenderness and it was a personal stretch. I am grateful I made the decision to be vulnerable and reach out vs. keep it all to myself. Thank god for loving friends that are lifelines!
When the darkness befalls me (whether because of what’s happening out in the world, or because of whatever is going inside of my own psyche) it’s time for me to reach into my Self Care tool box and use whatever is appropriate for the situation at hand. I don’t intend to be Pollyanna or to sound naive, but don’t underestimate the power of Self Care! When the world feels overwhelming, I turn inwards and listen closely. “What do I need right now?” I ask myself. Usually an answer pops right in. Othertimes, I have to just use trial and error to see what helps. Getting out in nature is always a great place to start for me.
Spending the last month on the road, in a van, living with a 15 year old boy, has challenged my self care routines. There is very little alone time (something that I normally rely on heavily for self-sourcing), there is limited wifi (connecting with friends/lifelines is almost nil), the weather was initially very challenging (exercise was not happening for days.) I wasn’t meditating, I wasn’t practicing yoga, I was feeling isolated from adults and totally catering to another human 24/7. Thankfully, I am remembering my own teachings on Self Care and Self Love from LOVELUTION! and putting my oxygen mask on first again. Phew!
What does that look like? Have you heard that expression “If Mama Aint Happy, Aint Nobody Happy”? I’ve started making sure that I am doing something for myself each day that fills up my tank. Whether that’s a solo run, a tea date with a friend, making time to write at a wifi cafe or bringing back my meditation practice (why oh why do I ever let this go?) The expression “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” is my simple prayer and intention. I want to shine as brightly as I can so I can add my light to all the other brilliant lights in the world and we can shine light in all corners, dispelling the darkness and love it up so that it doesn’t need to spread.
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the LIGHT that is you. -L.R. Knost
We the people are rising up because we are strong, we have been silent too long and we shall overcome. Love prevails, let Love rule. My country tis of thee, great land of Liberty. Let freedom ring through our voices, through our hearts, through the steam of our nostrils, as we stand with our sisters and brothers at Standing Rock. Last stand. Our land. A land of the free and the home of brave veterans, mothers, brothers, native elders who fight for our rights = the right to clean water, fresh air, sacred burial grounds to remain unmolested.
We the people entreat you, our Government, to Honor your Word. If not our word then what? In oil we trust. We must worship something more than that, more than cash. Blood sweat and tears are shed for this line in the sand. This Last Stand – again. History offers us another chance – again. I stand with Standing Rock, I stand for democracy – not hypocrisy. I am sick of this elephant stench. Open the window so that I may breathe the fresh air of truth Live streaming. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be on Facebook. Are you listening?
Harbin Hot Springs. My soul-home. My screen saver. My compass. My place of healing and refuge. My recurring dream. My holy land. When I arrive, the first thing I do is go to the water spout at the cold plunge and sprinkle water over my head – 7 times – one for each chakra. Then I drink, deeply. I get naked as fast as I possibly can and jump into the swimming pool so I can float on my back and look up at the tall Poplar trees. They are a talisman for me, reminding me to stand strongly rooted in the earth, reach for the sky, and bend gracefully to the breezes that blow. I’m home.
At 25 I was a naive, wide-eyed girl who had just realized my life-long dream of moving to California. It was the Summer of 1990 and a friend brought me up to Harbin. It was love at first sight. And I’ve been going ever since.
I’ve spent half of my life here. I’ve gone in all seasons. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve shivering in the warm pool as it snowed, pulling Tarot cards for the coming year. I’ve camped in the Fall, listening to the acorns, pop like gunshots, as they drop from the mighty oaks and explode on the tent platform. I’ve slept under the summer sky, counting shooting stars, and holed up in hotel rooms listening to the Spring rain.
I’m naked and exposed at Harbin, literally and figuratively. Anything that has been “living” inside of me surfaces. I’ve encountered the Wounded Masculine and the Divine Feminine, I’ve met the Priest and the Whore. All inside of me. Harbin is a portal place, a sacred chakra spot, and in my experience, Harbin provides me with every opportunity to heal whatever is needing to come up. 7 years ago, I was on beta blockers for severe arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and I was depressed that I needed to be on medication. I hiked up to the tea house with 2 friends and prayed for the “shield to be removed that protected my heart.” I walked back down to the pools and never took another beta blocker again. True story.
In his yoga classes, Peter would refer to the waters of Harbin as mother’s milk and if the pools are Harbin’s breasts, then the waterfall slit in the rocks, along the sacred path, hidden in a tangle of fig roots, is Harbin’s yoni. A place I’ve brought my most raw and unedited prayers to. I’ve come to Harbin at my most tender and broken, taking refuge in the waters. I’ve showed up in my fullest expression of joyful, playful ME. Harbin has received me in all ways, always.
I’ve been a starving student, escaping the San Francisco fog. I’ve been a single woman, a married woman, a young mother. I’ve shared laughter and popcorn in the Harbin kitchen. I’ve knitted on the sun deck, beaded in the Blue Room cafe, I’ve journaled in my tent. Toned in the meadow, I’ve sang, danced, prayed, chanted, sat, meditated, laughed, cried. I brought my children there and camped (which they hated.) I went to the meadow and sat inside a circle I made of my grandparents’ ash, thanking them for their love. Comforted that they will be part of this sacred land.
I can’t count the list of people I’ve gone up to Harbin with – old friends, new friends, women’s groups, boyfriends, husbands. I’ve met poets, artists and strangers that feel like family at Harbin. I’ve had the deepest conversations with people and never seen them again. I’ve gone up by myself and been lonely, I’ve gone with friends and been lonely. I’ve been there alone and felt such contenment and peace, knowing that death could knock on my door and I would rise up gladly and leave immediately – my soul complete and filled with the natural beauty of Harbin’s land.
This year, for my 50th birthday, friends who know and love me gave me money to use at Harbin and I bought a life-time membership. I finally felt ready for commitment (smile.) I got up to Harbin 3 times this year – once for my annual Spring trip with women friends, once for a HAI workshop and R&R and lastly, in July, for some one-on-one time with Barbara, a soul sister who has been coming to Harbin longer than I have and we share a deep and profound love of Harbin as well as laugh our heads off when we’re there.
This past weekend, Harbin was burned in a fire. The text I received on Saturday said it all: “Sis, Harbin is gone.” Pictures of the landscape stand my hair on end. My heart hurts. This fire did not happen to me, I know that. My heart goes out to all the beings (plant, animal, human) that are affected by this major event. And still, I mourn the loss of my temple home. Harbin reconnected me with my past. She is showing me my future. And she taught me to identify, appreciate and require presence.
I know how the sun looks dappling through the giant fig leaves, it is in my cellular memory how the candles flicker in the hot pool, I have sat in the garden lulled by the buzz of the bees in the apple blossoms as I watch dew evaporate off of a blade of grass. My body knows the feeling of the plaster temple floor warming my back. I can close my eyes and hear the night frogs croaking down by the bridge. I can smell the honeysuckle that rings the gazebo. This land, this place is in my DNA. I don’t know what will happen to Harbin, if it will be rebuilt or not. But I can say that if it does get rebuilt, I will care for the land lovingly, with the tenderest of touches, as if I was tending to a beloved hospice patient. I will bathe her body and swathe her in the softest of cloths. I will whisper my gratitude and joy to her, to be able to give back even a portion of what she has given to me. I will thank her for giving me my lover. And I will kiss her softly. Everywhere.
Last year I wrote a post about how I always go within at this time of year – actually I wrote that 2 weeks ago too – hah. Well, I guess it’s a theme for me. But something is starting to shift and lest you think that I only write about tough things, I wanted to share a bright, beautiful light that is shining on me right now. It’s called Embracing Loneliness.
Eleven years ago, I admitted to myself that I might be sensitive. Don’t laugh! Sensitive people had always made me feel uncomfortable and I had spent a lot of energy distancing myself from people that seemed “overly” sensitive. It’s been a process of accepting that indeed, I am a very sensitive person, and finding the gifts in that – it’s my creative spark, my drive to connect from the heart with others, what makes me approachable to people. I have a gentle nature and I try to honor that and try not to get too stressed out, because under stress, my fierce protector comes in and mows everybody down. Balance is a good thing. Praying for that. And working on it. Always.
Well, now I’m on to a new one – uncomfortable emotion, that is. Being in a long distance marriage, having one kid live in another state, and traveling a lot myself, I have a lot of time by myself. All my life I’ve felt lonely and it’s never been comfortable for me. Never! I’ve done so much on my own. I’m an only child, had a lot of freedom as a kid, saw my dad once or twice a year, moved a lot, felt like a ‘weirdo’ because I was ‘different’ (probably being overly sensitive – hah), I’m fiercely independent, a little bit of a loner – ok, a lot of a loner, march to my own drummer, not a joiner, etc. You can probably get the picture. All this time, I’ve thought there was something wrong with me for feeling lonely. I gave ‘loneliness’ a value judegment of wrong…or worse, unevolved – not spiritual enough. If I was truly connected to God, I would “never be alone” right? We’re all connected. So anytime I felt lonely, I felt bad about myself and tried very hard to NOT feel lonely! Push it down. Call a friend. Judge myself. Blame somebody else (ok, Andy) for making me feel lonely!
And then…something happened…something so small and every day, but for some reason, it got in and I had an “Aha!” moment. I was having a therapy session with someone that I respect. He leads workshops all over the world and lives with his wife and son and they all seem to have a very loving, connected relationship with each other. He was talking about how loneliness can overcome him during his morning meditation time and he will weep with it – even when his beloved family is in the very next room! He shared that loneliness is universal and just a feeling – a feeling to be felt and expressed and allowed to pass through. I really did feel like a bull, drunkenly tilting my head to one side and thinking “huh….? Wha??” He also went on to say, that loneliness, when felt, can be an indicator of deep love and yearning – something that I can convey and share with others and further my connectedness.
I thought about how so many people in the hospice groups for the newly bereaved are overcome with grief and afraid of how overwhelming it can feel. What we teach is that the only way ‘out’ is really ‘through’ – feeling the grief is the only thing that lessens the grief. I am comfortable with grief, I feel it every day. I allow it in and really ‘go there’, knowing it will pass and my tears will dry in minutes. What if I applied this to loneliness?
The past several days, I’ve had a lot of time alone in the house, the weather has been bitterly cold, all the animals are using me as a heating pad.
I’ve felt alone and have been missing my family, and have even felt some melancholy and existential angst about the passage of time as well as knowing that I am preparing to be away in India for several weeks – which always makes me feel as if I’m in outer space – as far away from familiar as I can get.
But what’s different these last few days is that I’m sitting in stillness (usually with at least one animal on top of me) and lighting candles, painting, creating beauty and warmth, and saying out loud “I’m lonely” and really feeling it. Letting myself go there. I’m sharing it with others without (and this is big, and new) hoping somebody (ok, Andy) will make it better. And guess what? Big surprise. It’s passing! Not only is it passing, it’s kind of welcome. In a poignant way. Like shedding a tear for a beloved grandparent – so sweet to remember their face, and sad to miss their embrace, but heart-opening to connect to that loving memory. This moment of loneliness connects me to my heart. I long for my husband and connect to the love I have for him. I notice the beauty of the falling snow. I’m present and aware that this moment is fleeting. I am grateful to be in my own good company. I heat soup. I feed the cats. I walk the dog. I feel content. So simple. So big.
There is a loneliness more precious than life. There is a freedom more precious than the world. Infinitely more precious than life and the world is that moment when one is alone with God. – Rumi
There is a force within that gives you life – Seek that.
In your body there lies a priceless jewel – Seek that.
Oh, Wandering Sufi, if you are in search of the greatest treasure, don’t look outside, Look within, and seek That. -Rumi
There is a warrior quality to the third chakra. In this yoga posture – Warrior One – I am Grounded, rooted (first chakra), my second chakra supplies chi to my third. Straight back, open heart, arms stretching in each direction, fingers pointing the way, eyes looking right over the hands, merging Will with Vision = I See. Throat open, Third Eye looking in the same direction as the right hand, head erect, connected to source. POWER!
This chakra is known as the power chakra, and is located in the solar plexus. It rules our personal power, will and autonomy, as well as our metabolism. When open, this chakra brings us energy, effectiveness, spontaneity, and non-dominating power. A healthy sense of self-esteem and identity are associated with a freely flowing solar plexus chakra.
I have a strong life-force; I think it and then I do it. In the past, I haven’t always been so graceful. My will. My way. The third chakra is governed by fire. I have a lot of fire in my chart and I have burned people in the past with my words and my actions. A truth seeker by nature, I took pride in my “swords of truth” not really noticing the bleeding bodies left in my wake.
Over the past several years, I have softened and matured. Life has tempered me – sometimes mercilessly. Nothing like going from the white hot flames to the ice cold bucket of water repeatedly. I surrender! I’ve become much gentler in my delivery. I’ve learned the value (the life path really) of vulnerability and connecting my heart to my actions. And like the sword, I’ve sharpened to a beautiful blade – I’ve learned when to apply force with a gentle pressure, and I also know when to cut through the bullshit. I embody warrior strength with intention and temper it with a gentle heart. I strive to marry my will with Divine will, so that I may be of service in all ways.
I honor myself. I offer my light and service to the world. I give light to all chakra centers above and below. I am the bright Sun. I am the light force made manifest. -Isha Lerner from the Triple Goddess Tarot
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.
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.
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.
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.
sitting in ceremony
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.
milk and ash
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.
Before our Women’s Journey to India started, I shared with Nancy that I felt 2 themes were emerging around this trip, based on the few things I was learning from the participants and our itinerary. The two themes were ‘mother’ and ‘water’. I knew we were going to Mother India and I was curious to see all the ways these themes might express themselves to each one of us. We had chosen to go to places in India that celebrated life, death and rebirth – many of these life/death rituals happened near or in the Ganges river – otherwise known as Mata Ganga (Mother Ganges.)
We landed smack dab in the middle of Durga Puja – a celebration of the Goddess Durga – the mother of the universe, mother of us all. What a “coincidence”! The time of Durga Puja is a holy time celebrated throughout all of India. Sculptures made out of clay are formed in her likeness – a powerful woman with 8 arms – and she is honored for several days with parades and dancing in the streets. In Varanasi, the beautiful statues are decorated and worshipped, the streets are clogged with processions down to the river, and Durga is sent off in boats to the middle of the Ganges to be set free in the river, clay returning back to mud.
Waiting for a boat to take Durga out
When we arrived in Varanasi, the weather was ominous with frothing white caps on the river that was at a record high and rain lashing at our hotel windows, creating puddles of water that soaked anything left on the floor. The scene was all too familiar for those of us from Colorado. We were dismayed to learn that all boat trips were cancelled indefinitely due to dangerous weather conditions. I stared longingly out my hotel window at the river – Mata Ganga – churning wide, brown and swift, wishing to be on it.
The Ganges is considered one of the holiest rivers for Hindus as well as a goddess: Ganga. Unlike other goddesses, she has no destructive or fearsome aspect, accepting all and forgiving all. It is considered an honor to die at the banks of the Ganges if one is a Hindu, and if that is not possible, to be cremated on her banks with the ashes set free in her current. It was my first time to Varanasi and I had come with the special task of releasing some of my dear friend and world traveler Lance’s ashes into the river. What with the late monsoon floods, and rains from the typoon happening to the East, I was dubious if I would get the chance to fulfill this task.
On our last day, we were told that boats could make the trip and we would indeed be able to take our evening ride with a priest (Pujari – one who officiates puja – offerings/ceremony) so that all of us who were releasing ashes (symbolic or otherwise) would be blessed. The current had finally died down enough so that the boat motors could power their way back up the river once they had drifted down to the burning ghats (the place of cremation in Varanasi that is at the water’s edge.) Punam told me later that she had prayed “day and night” to make sure we could have our boat ride and I shared that I had been praying too!
Before I left my room at the hotel, I lit some incense and prayed to be present and open for the ritual I was about to participate in.
In some ways, it felt like the end of my journey with Lance. From holding his hand as he slipped into a morphine sleep, to lying with his body in the wee hours of his death, to painting silks that wrapped around his body while he lay in his casket, to honoring his life at his memorial months later, here I was, in a final moment with him, releasing a baggie of ash and bone in India.
On the boat, a fresh wave of grief hit me and I sobbed in the dark. The women each held my story about Lance and his family in their hearts and gave me the strength to honor my friend.
After my wave of sorrow passed, came a joyful knowing that Lance would have LOVED knowing his ashes were in the Ganges, in a place that had meant so much to he and Nancy. I felt lighter and calm. A nice reminder for me that resistance is really the only thing that causes my suffering.