Filed under: health, holistic, india, meditation, spirituality, wellness, yoga
last week in rishikesh- ‘the yoga capital of the world’- was incredible for me.
i’ve never felt so comfortable in such a holy, spiritual place before. there is a different feeling of connection i get in hindu and buddhist temples that i have never felt in a cathedral or synagogue, no matter how much i admire their beauty and power. somehow i never felt like i belonged in those places. as i yearned for a sense of spiritual structure throughout my formative years, i always came up emptyhanded and often felt left out of a club that didnt accept people like me, who were still trying to figure out how to carve out their place in this big, scary world.
this past week, living in an ashram and taking yoga and naturopathy classes, i felt a sense of peace and fulfillment that was never available to me in such a tangible way. i have to admit, the energy & vibrations there were intense. there are so many other seekers and students, monks and gurus. it’s overwhelming to hear the chanting all night, and to sit on the bank of the Ganges river and watch freedom wash over people as they soak themselves in holy water. there is this sense of truth setting you free that is beyond words. it is simply magnificent to be a part of.
every morning i woke up and took private yoga classes, after which i was served sprouted lentils and tea. then it was time for class. the dr. of naturopathy discussed all of the treatments they provide- including hydro, mud, and massage therapy, as well as nutrition and detox cleansing and yoga and meditation of course. i have to say, of all the treatments i’ve witnessed in india, the nutrition thing, no matter how basic, speaks to me the most. and i felt empowered realizing that this journey has taken me to the other side of the world and yet still, the things that matter to all humans are the same everywhere, and the secret to a healthy and balanced life is not a secret at all- in fact it is something i know well. eat alkalized, unprocessed food, limit toxins, do yoga, work your mind, breathe, and try to laugh.
in the evenings i would practice meditation and breathing exercises with my instructor and go for long walks in the expat village nearby, reading in cafes overlooking the Ganga and watching the sun set. i have been rereading the bhagavad gita, the ancient hindu text, which i last read in college. studying hinduism here has been valuable in my attempt to understand the culture of india. the deepening of perspective is a major theme, helping the reader to experience her own life in the context of a wider purpose.
the practice of the different yogas described in the Gita- including dharma, karma, and bhakti- enables you to value ACTION over thought and to learn to work with what you are given. we are instruments of the cards we’ve been handed and we must do the best we can in order to find peace. in other words- it’s about letting go. one issue i was interested in was the way karma is interpreted, especially in a holy city where it seems like people are cleansing themselves through a dip in the river or transcendental meditation with gurus. through some conversations with hindus and my reading assignment, i realized that hinduism looks at karma as a paradox- on one hand free will exists, but yet, so does fate. the thing is, they seem to exist on different levels. we all have to make daily decisions, but in them, we are merely playing a part. i guess i relate it to the idea of intuition- more often than not you just know what to do in your own life. our subjective relationship with the universe is based on something deeper than just knowledge.
so, can you change your karma? can a guru take it from you? technically, i think the point is that the design does not change- we are a manifestation of karmic laws from past lives, and in this life, as our desires turn to thoughts which turn to action, we create more karma for our next incarnation. it goes on and on. and so this moment is a sum of life waves that have always been flowing to bring us to this place.
the amazing vibes i have gotten on this trip have been mostly from the people of this country who, despite any circumstances, do their work, or there dharma, whether it be cleaning the floors, cooking meals, or delivering babies, with a smile on their face and peace in their hearts. they are ego-less. there is not a sense of jealousy or resentment distracting them from being the best at what they have been put here to live out. in the end, it comes down to perspective- to be able to see outside of yourself without judgment, and then turn in towards yourself and do the same thing. if we can see the universe for what it is, we can see that it is working perfectly and we can be happy.
there is so much less anxiety here, life is not such a struggle- in many ways it is a healthier place to be.
we tend to ruin everything with self-consciousness and judgment– i can’t believe i ate that cookie! i haven’t worked out this week! my friend has more money than i do!– just do what you do and be fully there and stop criticizing yourself. we turn our lives into our ideas about our own inadequacies and think that if one thing were different- my big thighs, or my small paycheck- then life would be ok. what is the point of the torture? although there is sacrifice in hinduism, it differs exponentially from christian models of sacrifice. there is no pressure. it is about learning to act in awareness of the possibility of brahman- oneness. there is no need for masochism- suffering is grace in itself. you throw yourself into the fire and purify yourself- and you are free. it’s really about not being a phony. you can’t “trick” anyone in these practices, as you often can in other religions, because the joke’s on you! there is no god telling you you will burn in hell, but you will make your life harder than it has to be.
the root of the gita seems to be love and devotion- to open our hearts and become love. i know it sounds esoteric, but being here, i can see it, and it’s contagious to want a part of it.
in terms of the losses i’ve suffered this year, it has been awakening to be in this holy place. there was not just the obvious loss of someone close to me, but the loss of everything that once defined my entire life. nothing is the same. suffering happens. and if you can suffer and still find a way to love, then i think that is the key to keeping the peace. of course nothing is the same- nothing is ever going to be the same! for anyone, ever! we are so silly to constrain ourselves with these ideas.
despair is important. we have to deeply suffer to open our hearts- that is where we find the grace. same thing the tibetan buddhists say. when we look at our little melodramas- our sadness, anger, loneliness- with some perspective, our understanding of these notions change and we can accept them as much as a part of ourselves as our happiness and joy. essentially we must break ourselves down from the structures our egos have created for us and find stillness in the rubble and disarray. this is where the freedom lies.
so, in conclusion to this messy way of explaining my minute understanding of hinduism and the people i’ve had the pleasure of being around for the past month, i will say this:
i don’t believe in randomness. i feel vastly connected to the plotlines of my life, even those that have been totally seemingly out of my own control. to have been brought here through the pain and joys of the past couple of years is something i am immensely grateful for. as i continue on the last legs of my journey, i am going to aim to keep allowing myself to go with the flow- not to worry about what my future holds or does not hold- all the things i’ve spent too much of my life anxious about. i am going to use my favorite mantra first instilled in me by my beautiful friend steph- EVERYTHING WORKS OUT,
and just keep believing it until it becomes my truth.
have any of you ever experience one of those periods in life when it feels like all the energy of the universe is against you.? you can’t keep up with the current but you’re too far from the shore to swim to safety? i’d be shocked to hear if anyone answered no.
the universe is a funny place– literally. sometimes i can’t help but laugh out loud at the absurdity of what people are expected to undergo, and yet, i am often equally as struck by the beautiful nature of the world and the gifts we are given. lately, as i have been going through my own metamorphosis of sorts, i have found this this delicate place that lives somewhere in between extreme emotional stress and pain, and this beautiful, balanced sense of hopeful joy. i visit both sides of the spectrum many times a day, but i have found an appreciation for the space between the two, where i am able to step back and learn to be gentle with myself and others and let go of expectations about the way things are “supposed to be.”
pema chödrön, a beautiful, wise Buddhist nun, whose writings were given to me by an angel of a friend, has helped me so much in my process of letting go during this difficult time. chödrön’s teachings are so powerful because they apply to everyone. in her book, “the places that scare you,” chödrön trains us to be compassionate warriors. in doing so, she inspires us to dive into our fear (of uncertainty, loneliness, sickness, loss – any of the places we all have to inevitably face), move beyond it without denying it, and ultimately learn to truly live with purpose in this world of constant change. no one said it was easy, but what has been so eye-opening for me, is that the hard part is often the GOOD part. this is the part where you are able to sink into yourself and let the stress fall away and just feel what you feel with an open heart and a desire to be present, kind, and loving.
i have never been one of those people that could meditate for very long. i would close my eyes and try to find that place of stillness and my mind would start trailing off after a few minutes and that would be it. it is a very uncomfortable place to be. i dont know if i have ever been ready to be that aware and mindful. chödrön has a very effective way of inspiring people to meditate. she describes it as “a method of cultivating unconditional friendliness toward ourselves.” with time and practice, i am beginning to understand how to relax with myself and feel transformed from the process, and i believe it is because i have begun to understand why it is that i am practicing. my goal these days is not to “get”anywhere or to accomplish something i can brag about to my yoga-loving friends. the goal is just to do something loving for myself. and it is working!
the power of meditation and relaxation is transformative, and it is simple and yet not so simple at the same time. you have to be willing to go to those places that scare you and just sit inside them for a while. don’t think, just stay. exercise control, breathe, laugh!
here are some tips i find helpful for meditating:
1. find a relaxing, quiet place- this can be as specific as a certain corner of your favorite room. (dont forget to turn off your blackberry!)
2. stretch for a few minutes before you begin. this will make you more comfortable.
3. start with the breath. breathe in and out slowly to relax your muscles and quiet your mind. once your mind is quiet, try to feel your body parts without thinking about them.
4. focus on your aspiration. meditating is an active practice, and it requires full attention to a single purpose. (for instance, getting past a certain fear). incorporate this purpose into your breath- feel yourself breathing it in and out as if it were a tangible object.
5. feel your frustration and go with it. it is normal for people to feel their thoughts invading what is supposed to be a quiet mind. try to move past it and keep going. just breathe.
6. focus on your heart. think about your open heart and how much you have to be grateful for. naturally, your thoughts will retreat.
7. be patient with yourself and just practice meditation sincerely. you cannot go wrong if you do this.
most of the reason i began this blog was to talk about health and food…topics that are beyond interests for me; they fuel my passion for life. but an important factor that many people forget these days is that there are other types of food that nourish us that are imperative to total health– at my school, the institute for integrative nutrition, we call this primary food. at the end of the day, what we put in our bodies physically doesn’t really matter if our appetites for love and spirituality are not being fulfilled. this does not mean we must be hard on ourselves every time we don’t make time to work out, or are not in a relationship, or can’t seem to find the peace to meditate. the point is learning to go to those scary places, discover where you are lacking nourishment, and give yourself the compassion and love that you deserve to feed that hunger.
it may sound verbose and complex, but really it is not. it is so simple- the hardest part is allowing yourself to unlock the door. once you’re in, you can take that ton of bricks that has hit you– maybe you lost your job, or someone close to you is sick; maybe you had your heart broken and feel lonely, or you are struggling with body image– you can take them and you can rebuild your life, gently. these painful experiences do not have to harden us, and in fact, the more tender and open we are, the more fearless and free we become. step by step, you will begin to see that we are each given choices every day, and the real gift that we come to find through understanding this is that we have the power to choose how we want to treat ourselves and those around us; the power to create a nourished and fulfilling life.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin