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.

ShivaDurgaGanesha
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.

lastNight
last night boat ride

Mother India and the River of Love – Part 1

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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.

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.

Hotel view, there's water on the marble floor...
Hotel view, there’s water on the marble floor…

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.

Waiting...
Waiting…
more waiting
more waiting

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.

praying with Lance one last time
praying with Lance one last time

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.

heading out, fires in the distance are the crematories
heading out, fires in the distance are the crematories
Burning Ghats
Burning Ghats
puja
puja – offerings

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.

Rock Star Pujari with Nancy and me, feeling peaceful
Rock Star Pujariji with Nancy and me, feeling peaceful
Joyful…with Somit

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there.  I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry:

I am not there.  I did not die.

-Anonymous

Holy Water

The rains last month were nothing short of epic. It might not have been 40 days, but 4 straight days of rain in Boulder felt biblical. I’ve never seen the ground so saturated. More than 2 weeks after the flooding happened here, there’s still standing water on my street:

just one home's damage
typical site on Sumac

Although we were more fortunate than many, we still flooded, our basement is gutted, furniture got ruined and our lives were majorly shaken up by the sirens, reverse 911 calls saying “Get to higher ground”, seeing our backyard turn into a brown raging river and hearing about a possible 30 foot wall of water headed our way, containing boulders, cars and sure disaster. And did I mention, everything happened after dark?  It’s been hard to wrap my head around the events that happened.  Andy and I look back and realize we were in shock the first few days. “Why didn’t we move those drawers off the carpet?” I ask myself out loud. It was because I never dreamed the rain would continue and we would get flooded a second time on the second night, this time with raw sewage and higher water lines on the dry wall. “Why didn’t we start cutting the dry wall away immediately?” I wonder. It’s because I couldn’t deal with the basement anymore, so I shut the door to the downstairs, compartmentallizing what I could deal with. Until the smell of mildew started to creep in. It’s been humbling to see how vulnerable we are compared to Mother Nature and to see how easily I can be cracked by disturbances in my “normal.” I want to be like grass, bending under the water weight, graceful and strong.

If you want to read a fantastic write-up on the collective trauma this region went through, read this woman’s account. Here’s one quote from her piece: “Humans have a biological need to “orient” in the face of threat. To assess for danger, and when the danger no longer looms, to create safety. We need to find our ground again. Especially when there are cracks and rivers where the roads used to be.” Amen.

We do need to find our ground again…here at home. Or at least, that’s my impulse. To take comfort in the familiar.  I’m attached to ritual and routine.  I feel untethered right now, I’m tired and my immune system feels compromised.  Everything here is topsy turvy. Our furniture is out on the street, or in the garage.  Andy’s office has now moved into my space.  I feel squeezed.  Physically, emotionally and spiritually, and it makes me cranky and brittle.  “Let me be like grass…” is my mantra these days.

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.
– Lao-Tzu

the power of water
the power of water in Rishikesh, India

I am leaving for India in 3 days.  India, the queen of unfamiliar and untethered. The place that knocks me off my feet and pins me down until I surrender: powerless and open.  The best advice I can give anyone who is about to travel in India is to let go of all expectations and need for control. When I’m there, I am devoted to the present moment with a fierceness that knows this is my salvation in a completely foreign world.  In India, I “Let go and let God” and I love it.   The rains last month have given me a head start for India by exposing my rigidity and reminding me that control is always an illusion.   I pray to keep supple, so that I may bend, not break.  I pray I may keep opening my heart and my hands so that I may release my death grip on what I think I need or must have.  I pray for all those affected by this flood and all floods everywhere.  I pray for the group of women that are about to embark on the India trip – for safe travels, the warmth of community, and heart-openings.  I give thanks for the gifts I have received from the heavy rains – the literal washing away of things that no longer serve.  The cleansing and purifying of my home and land.  The heart-healing from mending severed ties through offering helping hands.  For the trees that look more refreshed than they have in a decade.  For my home in Boulder and my home in India and my home in Santa Cruz.  Home is truly where the heart is.

hOMe
hOMe

 

 

 

 

 

 

True Confessions – Part 1

Every day I make a ‘to do’ list and I write: “blog post about India.”

'to do' lists
‘to do’ lists

I usually get everything done on my list, except the blog post.  Why?  Well…I have a secret to share.  I am sharing this with the hope that it will help others and set me free at the same time.

When I first decided that I wanted to plan a trip to India, a part of me felt that I needed a “draw” – like, I needed a big name or talent to get people to sign up.  I knew I could handle the details and organize the trip, but I didn’t think that I could get people to sign up just because I was leading it.  So I set out to get a well known teacher to co-lead with me.  Only problem was, for different reasons, the teachers weren’t able to do the trip.  This was not working out how I planned.  I kept giving God a squinty-eyed look that said “I am not doing this trip myself God!”  I didn’t want to.  But here’s the dirty little secret…it wasn’t because I didn’t think I could do it – that wasn’t the scary part for me at all – it was because…because…if I couldn’t get enough people to sign up for the trip, and had to cancel, then I would be a FAILURE.  And not only that, but I would fail PUBLICLY.  Everyone would know that I failed.

I wrestled with this for awhile.  I suffered.  During a BARS energy work session with Kate Spear’s gentle questioning, I started to unravel my beliefs around the trip.  What would it take for me to put both feet in regarding the trip?  What would it look like if I partnered with God?  What would it feel like if I let India be the “draw”?  What if I planned a beautiful trip and trusted that the participants would have their own experiences?  I could feel my chest expanding with each question Kate asked.  The true freedom of letting go of any attachment to the outcome…the relief of stepping back and trusting that India, and India alone, would be the bell calling out to each soul.  Partnering with God filled me with trust.  I felt humble and unafraid.  I was committed, both feet in, to follow this journey towards India and see where it would lead me.  There was no failure in trying, only learning.  I made a commitment to move forward.

The very next day, Nancy West McGuire sent me a freind request on Facebook.  I knew her peripherally but I had always been too shy insecure to reach out.  I accepted her freind request and shared my secret that I had always wanted to be her friend but had been holding back.  She responded instantly and warmly, saying “Hello new friend!  Life is too short to be shy!”  and we set up a date to meet and have tea.  Two days later, we met at one of my favorite cafes in Boulder and talked for hours – discovering many common themes, one of which was a shared passion for India.

In Part 2  I’ll write about how a Facebook request, and a truth shared with vulnerability from the heart led me to be co-leading a trip to India with Nancy.  See you tomorrow!

Rinka’s Gift

Rinka….The Flower Girl

by Nancy West McGuire

Varanasi, India

February 2008

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It was a birth…that night…lit by the moon…

I had been called here to the banks of the Ganges to be born…some 30 years ago…to a place I had only dreamed of….

Pulsating…energy…excitement….every cell alive…anticipation…joy….alive…and waiting to see…to breathe…on my own…out of the darkness and into the light…..down the narrow canal…that felt like I would never arrive….pushing forward…faster…faster…faster….like the beating of the drums all around me….the thrusting of the hips came faster…quicker…the sound reverberating off the walls that were wrapped around me…pushing, pushing, pushing further and further with only faith and trust to guide me….Rapture…

Smells…people…lights…prayer…joy…sadness…eyes wide open…loud….alive…holy…I had finally arrived…

Overwhelmed…I wept…crying as I was released…from the safety of the womb…into the energy that was electric and alive…and all I could do was cry…as I breathed for the first time…took in all that was there…before my eyes…the color…the air of excitement…the River….

Get on the boat…get on the boat….Confused…I was swept onto the boat…that would take me to a place of perspective…birth and death and rebirth…side by side…naturally…no pretense…raw….

“You must have a flower” she said….”You must”…..as she followed me on to the boat…seemingly, carefully, choosing just the right flower for me…

I got on the boat…and I wept…inconsolably wept…

As I wept…the little girl with the soulful eyes patted the seat next to her on the boat…lit by the full moon…against a backdrop of color, sound, birth, death, spirits rising….as if to say “Come here…rest…sit a spell”….and so I moved to her side…feeling comforted just in her presence….

“Why you crying?”  said the little girl with the big basket of flowers.

“I am crying because I have dreamt of being here…right here for 30 years”  I replied….

The flower girl looked as if she didn’t understand….

I went on….”A dream….I’ve had this dream…for 30 years…and now I’m here…and I can’t believe it…it’s like a really, really big wish.  Have you ever had a dream?” I asked.

“I dream of being a flower girl…here…selling you flowers”

said she with beauty and depth and certainty…

as if she had sat there…

waiting for me…

knowing that I would come…

for 30 years….

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February 2012

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Nancy and Rinka, age 17…married…lives under an umbrella at the Main Ghat…

Join Nancy and me on our Journey to India this October, where we will explore some of the most exciting, potent and spiritual places in India.  Together, we will venture into a world that most Westerners have not seen and meet people that will surely touch your hearts.

Build It and They Will Come

So a couple months ago, I called Kirsten Boyer to see if she would be open to taking a photo of me for a flyer to use on the India trip.  I’d seen her work and thought she does lovely things with light and I was thinking possibly she could take a nice, professional head shot of me.  As we were brainstorming on the phone, Kirsten asked me if I had any interest in making a short informational video for my website – something for people to watch and get a better feel of who I am.   “Oh…like a virtual business card?” I asked.  “Yes!” Kirsten exclaimed.  “Sure, why not?” I answered.  And that’s how a phone call with Kirsten about a head shot for a flyer becomes an entire website with 5 (five!) videos and some of the best pictures I’ve ever seen of myself.

I’ve been wondering what is going to come of this…why a website?  Why now?  The noticing part of me is watching…observing…curious to see what will evolve.  Kirsten was my midwife.  She might be uncomfortable with that title, but I’ve thanked her all along for inching me along, seeing a bigger picture (no pun intended.)

Working with Kirsten is a special experience.  She has an amazing eye – she can take a cloudy day, a clump of weeds and a self-conscious model and get this:

One of the best parts of working together was getting to hang out with Kirsten.  I miss her now that the project is done.  I’m busy cooking up new ideas so we can hang out. Maybe I can carry her camera equipment 🙂

Don’t be fooled by her gentle demeanor.  It’s a tribute to Kirsten’s personality that she is as approachable and mellow as she is, but she knows what she is looking for in a picture and she’ll direct you.  Your best bet is to enjoy the ride and trust her eye.   It was creatively inspiring as well as heart opening to work together.  She modestly claims that we “co-created” this project.  Not so sure that’s how I would describe the long hours we spent with me blanking out in front of the camera and her coaching me to talk about why I’m so great. (aargh)  There were definitely edgy parts for me about being the subject matter of all of this – a website about Me, starring Me, all about Me!  Kirsten was just the right mix of support and heckler; reflecting my gifts and believing in them, and also helping me laugh at myself.

Kirsten put many hours into this project and I think the videos are amazing.  When I die, you can play them at my memorial as a tribute – they’re that good!  When I watch the “Spirit” one, I always cry and I have to remember that I’m still alive.

I really do feel like Kirsten saw a better ‘me’ – and captured it on film.  The Me that I want to be – that I’m striving to be.  She raised the bar and I want to be that person that I see in her photos.  I’m becoming…evolving…into a brighter self.  I am forever grateful that she was part of this unveiling in me.  It feels alchemical.

I wish I could gift everyone I know with a session with Kirsten.  She’ll take photos that will make you feel beautiful, she will put you at ease and you will get to banter with a fine, saucy wit.  I hope there are things in her life that make her feel as beautiful and radiant as she is.

Today, in The Morning Blessings, I read:  Life here is precious, for we are love and light evolving as beauty and joy each and every moment. Today you can begin to feel this divine Selfhood by being who you really are. Each time you look into the mirror, go beyond your personality and see the divinity that is within. Make it a point to see yourself as Spirit in all you think, say and do.

I feel divine

Varanasi – second stop on our India trip

Varanasi, as seen from the Ganges
Varanasi, as seen from the Ganges

“Brace yourself.  You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colorful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth.  Varanasi takes no prisoners.  But if you’re ready for it, this may just turn out to be your favorite stop of all.”

-Lonely Planet  INDIA

Also known as the City of Life, this is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities and is regarded as one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities.  Pilgrims come to the ghats (steps leading down into the water) lining the River Ganges to wash away a lifetime of sins and to cremate their loved ones.  To die here, in Varanasi, offers moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) and it is said that when ashes of ancestors are offered into the Ganges, you are erasing 7 generations of karma from the past and 7 generations of karma in the future.  Powerful stuff.  Before I go to Varanasi, I hope to obtain some ashes of my father’s and release them into the swirling waters of the Ganges.

Lonely Planet goes on to say:  “Most visitors agree it’s a magical place, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.  Here the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public and the sights, sounds and smells in and around the ghats can be overwhelming.  Persevere.  Varanasi is unique, and a walk along the ghats or a boat ride on the river will live long in memory.”

We have such great events planned for Varanasi, including an evening boat ride along the Ganges as well as a sunrise boat ride the following day.  We will be attending a temple aarti (ceremony with song and lamps) and receive a private concert.  My pulse quickens with excitement to visit this holy city.  I know first-hand how surreal India can seem and yet, in the completely unfamiliar and unknown, spirit resides and the veils are thin.  There is absolute potency for amazing experiences in this space of suspended belief.  Can you feel it?

Journey to India – a view behind the veil

Krishna - embodiment of love

I am so excited to announce that Nancy West McGuire and I have planned a women’s retreat to India.  There are many incredible events planned as we visit New Delhi, Varanasi and Rishikesh as well as daily yoga and meditation classes.  We’ve organized this event in collaboration with a known and trusted, professional Indian guide who brings us access to many experiences the average traveler wouldn’t be privy to.  Click here for a detailed itinerary.

The trip dates are:  October 12 – 22, 2013.  For more information, please go to our Journey to India website.  We would love to have you join us!

Namaste