29 November 2011

Encountering the Self

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Arriving at Manna Cafe to play on Saturday night, with one sandal held together by string. It fell apart in the road on the way there, and at dinner at the Olive Tree I asked for something to hold it together; Megan from Invermere came up with a piece of string just the right length. Now today, down to one pair of flip-flops, I'm glad to be free of the rotten Teva's, the leather deteriorating by the day in the road slop. Last week I got the guy at the chai shop to do a street-side repair job, but now, a week later, I'm just glad to move on, lighter. My toes also are better off exposed to the air, following the previous night's outing to Manna (when our band was supposed to play, except the rain was too heavy and the other musicians were sick) and I came in from the outhouse with bare toes itching from what I thought was an ant bite, but was skin split from fungus, athlete's foot, incubated in days of humidity and rain. Saturday too on arriving they told me that Suryaneel was sick but I said I'd seen him earlier that day for rehearsal, and the rain had subsided, so I sat and waited and he did show up, a little bit late, with an eight-year-old Indian boy, Danesh, with him to play tambour. Our debut set gathered a small but appreciative crowd, gracious for our tunes mostly improvised together, complete with an impromptu African piece I led on the darabuka, and a sketchy group om-along.

Today my toes are healing well; the rain has let up enough to get clothes dried on the rooftop, and I'm over the mild but lingering sickness of the past week, for the first time. Another good kirtan set this morning at Upahar's, playing with Oleg again, also recovered from sickness, and Suryaneel, arriving late, and a djembe player who kept his head down and played too loud. Still Suryaneel's flute rose above it all, clearing a pure space of still meditation and full emptiness. This morning was rough, with mosquitoes buzzing the bed an hour before dawn, and even after I rigged up the mosquito net, finding ways in to prevent me from ever falling back asleep. At least the nights have been cooler of late, and I'm glad to sleep under the heavy sheet and Tibetan blanket, with all the windows closed. Still the cows start bellowing early and continue through the day whenever I start to nap, so I forget that and just brew another cup of coffee. The Internet worked fine today after the guy had to change all my settings which had been reconfigured too many times at other locations. I went to buy toilet paper, bottled water and samberli incense for mosquitoes, at Bubu's market; he was 100 rupies short on change and told me to come back for it another time. In the evening I walked with Osnat on the main road, with little traffic before the masses arrive for the holiday, and realized a new pleasure, an unhurried pace, lightness in my step.

15 November 2011

India is India

India is India. India doesn’t care what you think of her. India doesn’t care if you come or go, how many ages in past or future. India remains. India is home, and you know this even if it makes your stomach squirm on first arriving. And your stomach will squirm, even if you are careful what you put into your mouth. The dust, the dirt, the grime, the noise, the chaos of the streets will get you, even if you come believing you are above all that. The cows eating garbage in the streets, the crazy trucks with carnival paint and bling-bling blaring Bollywood dub pop mania with horns in orchestral disarray … even on the mountain, the sacred mountain Arunachala you hear their chorus tuning, bleating, blaring below, in the dusty town that stretches from one field to another without end, without beginning.

In Ramana’s cave, the stillness is profound. The chorus of horns in the town below the mountain fades away, also the drip in the close-by spring, and thoughts subside into emptiness. Appreciating the sweetness, I do consider the perfect air, temperature and humidity controlled for the body to have no need. Perfect merger with earth, air, body, the fire stilled, the water quiet, the town removed.Ramana had no desire for an ashram to be built in his name, for worshippers to come prostrating themselves on the marble floor, the garlanded throne, even for those few devotees to save him with food from starvation when he first arrived, content with bliss alone of being, no need.

You said you would not return, could not bear it, felt so relieved to arrive in Thailand even, the pungent streets of Bangkok, calling that home by contrast. You said you were done with the crazy cities, the impossible trains, the buses without shocks or brakes, the decrepit bicycles and oxcarts in the roadways lined with rubble, the same as Kathmandu, as Conakry, as Iquitos, only worse. Apocalypse not only now but forever, this misery you must face and accept, for this is your body, our body, our human earth, our waste and destruction, and kindness in coming back for more, among the beggars, beggars, beggars, this is after all where we all are headed, our once-sleek North American cities, our Eurozone of comfort and cleanliness, when the public funding runs dry into the pockets of the filthy rich, we come back to India, to Guinea, to Brazil and Peru, to El Salvador and Greece in the meek stones, Jaipur and Varanassi, Mumbai, Chennai, Malawi.

In the room awaiting Shivashakti, the diminutive woman in orange sari who appears daily at ten, for fifteen minutes of silence in front of a few dozen sitting in meditation, I sense an intelligence around me, awake and aware, reminding me of its presence here as elsewhere, in Peru for instance, in the ceremonial yurt; or Maui, in Daryl’s truck by Little Beach, when I glimpsed that entity again in grace of crystal clarity ... In that moment she appears, gliding into the room to take a seat in front of the crowd. Her gaze, quiet and slow, scans the room, face by face, eyes by eyes, making contact, acknowledging and confirming the presence of that awake, aware intelligence which is not personal to her, nor to me or anyone else in the room, but pervasive in existence itself. A smiling and all-embracing gaze that says, Yes, welcome, we are one.” Like Guillermo the curandero, like Famoudou the djembefola, she rises and glides again through the room, her small stature and absolute silence no impediment to the mastery of her powers, which is only to be a vehicle, a channel, an embodiment of the infinite.

The orchestra is tuning up, its mode both classic and pastoral, heavy metal and pop, psychedelic and spiritual all rolled into one, on the dusty street past the temple, the swept dirt in the ashram, where all the seekers come and go, mute and prostrate, before this or that saint, looking for someone to lead the way out of themselves and ignoring the message to look within, to rest and stop the search, right now. The cafes are full of us, or half-empty, depending on the season, and India doesn’t care. There is an enigmatic head nod that lets us come or go, or stay a while longer, offering a small coin of contribution to the passing of the age, and we compare our experience, our temporary lodgings, our stomach disorders, our revelations in the cave before the relics of the saint.
Home we go again to tell our stories and post our blogs, upload our pictures and pay visits to our specialists of intestinal disorders, entering the rat race once again, even if for the last time, while India remains. India is India, and in the dusty street the beggar still waits, the shopkeeper still does a middling trade, the heavy truck rumbles past blaring its Bollywood bop, and the auto-rickshaw careens around a cow eating cardboard. Somehow in the midst of this madness, watching India be India, in the midst of India being India, we catch a glimpse of a pearl of truth, how to be oneself.
In bed at the end of the day, with the morning spent in kirtan and the afternoon at the Internet café, I rest in semidarkness with vision clear and still. The pounding drums of the night before are gone, yielding to tinny radio from the farmhouse below. The darkness allows fleeting images, lights and colors, brief enough only to suggest that there is more to this stillness than meets the eye and ear.

At dawn the barnyard stirs to life, water running, cows lowing, a man coughing, and at first my reaction is resentment: we have to move, this isn’t working, what kind of home is this? In a little while the mountain gathers light, and the sounds subside. A feeling of peace and contentment returns, deeper than before. There is no need, really, to go anywhere. Home is home.