Wisdom from the woods – A squirrel story

I was hiking in the Chuckanuts yesterday in search of peace and solitude, when I had an encounter with a metaphor. Everything is a metaphor, but I seem to miss the city ones, they are too subtle, whereas metaphors in the woods always appear clear and obvious to me.

I was walking from the top of Cleator road down a narrow trail covered in fresh dew and pine needles. The woods were perfectly still, with just enough forest noise to highlight the very low undertonal base decibel level. My life has been so hectic lately, I craved that silence and stillness. Half way down the trail, I stopped, closed my eyes and just listened. I could feel peace flowing in, muscles relax and worries melt, until some squirrel ran down from the tree next to me and started chirping loudly. He* was so upset that each chirp was accompanied by a full body spasm. The chirping wasn’t personal. The squirrel was just reacting instinctively to the perceived threat of an element he considered incongruous in his world.

Since I understood the reason for his hostility, I didn’t begrudge him the disturbing of my peace and quiet. But still, he was pretty annoying. If you have ever tried to shoo a squirrel away, you know that this only irritates them further, so I had to find another way. My own instinct told me to just keep on down the trail so as to not bother him.   I am the intruder in the woods after all. Wait. Am I? Who says that I have any less right than this squirrel to be on the trail right now? I am a creature of this world too. I am a creature of the woods too. Why am I judging the needs of a squirrel as more important than mine? Oh yeah, because I understand what is going on and can adapt, because I have the brains (and opposable thumbs), because a small gesture on my part could alleviate a lot of anguish for him.

My heart said that, even though I normally accommodate irate squirrels by moving further down the trail, there was a lesson here for me. This squirrel was giving me the opportunity to explore how to address the onslaught of judgment and fear related to my upcoming PCT hike with no consequence. Well, I suppose I could have pissed him off so much that he ran down at me with slashing fangs, but I felt pretty secure in my ability to defeat him if that were the case. Since I believe in Newton’s third law and I believe it applies to energy, my first attempt was to turn towards the squirrel and love him with all my heart. That’s it, just love him. I’m not resenting you for being a loud, obnoxious, furry creature. You are perfect as you are. I understand why you are upset. I have compassion for you. This was all said in my head, but I concentrated on projecting my love to him. Hypothesis: The squirrel will feel the love vibration and naturally quiet down and come to a place of peace. Data: The body-spasming chirping increased three-fold and the squirrel came down closer to me on the trail. Result: Staring at a squirrel, whether you send him love or not, really pisses him off. Conclusion: Either the experiment was flawed (i.e. I’m not skilled enough at projecting love to squirrels) or the hypothesis is busted.

If I couldn’t solve the issue by my actions, I figured I’d explore non-action next. When faced with an irate squirrel, would Gandhi have better luck than Newton? I returned to facing the woods and sought that place of peace in which I found myself prior to the squirrel’s arrival. It was not easy. He was VERY distracting. I slowly let the chirping become just a sound of the forest in my ears, concentrating on not attaching any more importance to it than to other forest noises despite its loudness and proximity. As soon as I managed that, the squirrel gave me one last expletive and ran off. Conclusion: either the experiment was flawed (i.e. the squirrel just got tired of me and my experiments) or I just hit upon a pearl of woodsy wisdom: Just let the chirpers chirp and follow your heart. 

7 days until departure. Enough philosophical nonsense for one day. I’ve got gear to pack!!

* I have arbitrarily assigned a gender to the squirrel because I was having trouble keeping my pronouns straight if I referred to him at “it”

 

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Version 2: with editorial comments.
I prefer the one above, but the one below, with editorial comments in Italics, is how I originally wrote it, so for the sake of authenticity, here it is:

I was hiking in the Chuckanuts yesterday in search of peace and solitude, when I had an encounter with a metaphor. Everything is a metaphor, but I seem to miss the city ones, they are too subtle, whereas metaphors in the woods always appear clear and obvious to me.

I was walking from the top of Cleator road down a narrow trail covered in fresh dew and pine needles. The woods were perfectly still, with just enough forest noise to highlight the very low undertonal base decibel level. My life has been so hectic lately, I craved that silence and stillness. Half way down the trail, I stopped, closed my eyes and just listened. I could feel peace flowing in, muscles relax and worries melt, until some squirrel ran down from the tree next to me and started chirping loudly. He* was so upset that each chirp was accompanied by a full body spasm. The chirping wasn’t personal. The squirrel was just reacting instinctively to the perceived threat of an element he considered incongruous in his world.

When I first came back from India, I felt like the Golden Girl of the universe. I usually feel that way, but it was particularly strong right after I returned to Bellingham. Since then tough, I have been under an onslaught of judgement born of other people’s ego. The ego dwells in fear a lot, and I am incongruous in the world – not my world, I’m right on in my own world, but in some other people’s world. I cannot ever truly know how others perceive me, but the intensity of conversations I have had with friends and strangers lately lead me to believe that my choice of lifestyle can trigger the same instinct in humans as that of the squirrel in the woods. How dare you fall off society? Who are you to be so special that you don’t have to toil? Why aren’t you worried about what your job prospects, or lack thereof, will be when you return from this unreasonable excursion? Oh, you must be getting money from your ex-husband, nobody can just be free of the Man [I’m not, by the way, using any of Chuck’s money. Although he has said he would rescue me if I went broke, and I am grateful for the peace of mind, I have so far survived on my own savings augmented with frequent and unexpected gifts from the Universe, and I plan on continuing this way. Sorry, that is my ego feeling a need to rectify false perceptions, and I will let it for this one time]. In many instances, these “worries” about how I am not fitting in society come before those about my safety or well-being on the trail. 

Since I understood the reason for his hostility, I didn’t begrudge him the disturbing of my peace and quiet. But still, he was pretty annoying. If you have ever tried to shoo a squirrel away, you know that this only irritates them further, so I had to find another way. My own instinct told me to just keep on down the trail so as to not bother him.   I am the intruder in the woods after all. Wait. Am I? Who says that I have any less right than this squirrel to be on the trail right now? I am a creature of this world too. I am a creature of the woods too. Why am I judging the needs of a squirrel as more important than mine? Oh yeah, because I understand what is going on and can adapt, because I have the brains (and opposable thumbs), because a small gesture on my part could alleviate a lot of anguish for him.

This is the rule I follow unconsciously: whoever is least adaptable wins my time and energy. The problem is that I am more adaptable than the average bear (or squirrel). I can very easily accommodate other people’s needs because I am not usually too attached to my own. Lately, I have been called on for help or advice or as a listening ear for drama-venting a lot. I am honored that my friends turn to me for these. I turn to them when in need too. From an ego perspective, my choice is either to 1) forgo my busy and shrinking schedule to help a friend or 2) attend to Melissa first and feel like a selfish bitch. Egos need rules – moral code rules, social conduct rules, all sorts of rules. If an element breaks the rules, he/she is judged negatively. But if we accept that we are not the ego, that we are something greater than the ego just down here in the earth-school to come to our full self-awareness, then the rules don’t apply. Any experience is beneficial, even that of being a selfish bitch. Right? That doesn’t feel right either. Actually, it violates the law of abundance, which says that the energy you put out determines the energy you get back. Putting unpleasant energy out is unlikely to be beneficial. Newton’s third law: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So the universe has rules too, and these are not dictated by society, they are intrinsic. If they are intrinsic, then the only way to access the book of universal law must be through our hearts. 

My heart said that, even though I normally accommodate irate squirrels by moving further down the trail, there was a lesson here for me. This squirrel was giving me the opportunity to explore how to address the onslaught of judgment and fear with which I am faced in town with no consequence. Well, I suppose I could have pissed him off so much that he ran down at me with slashing fangs, but I felt pretty secure in my ability to defeat him if that were the case. Since I believe in Newton’s third law and I believe it applies to energy, my first attempt was to turn towards the squirrel and love him with all my heart. That’s it, just love him. I’m not resenting you for being a loud, obnoxious, furry creature. You are perfect as you are. I understand why you are upset. I have compassion for you. This was all said in my head, but I concentrated on projecting my love to him. Hypothesis: The squirrel will feel the love vibration and naturally quiet down and come to a place of peace. Data: The body-spasming chirping increased three-fold and the squirrel came down closer to me on the trail. Result: Staring at a squirrel, whether you send him love or not, really pisses him off. Conclusion: Either the experiment was flawed (i.e. I’m not skilled enough at projecting love to squirrels) or the hypothesis is busted.

One of my yoga instructors in India (the handsome Scottish one), always said “where the mind goes, the energy flows”. But I don’t know what kind of energy receptors comes standard on squirrels. Do they even have chakras? So, if a creature is already having a spaz attack and I direct my energy to it, I am validating his spazzing, I am increasing it by feeding it my own energy. This will also need to be tested, of course. But assuming I’m right, when people feel personally offended that I am not living by society’s rules, even if the whole process is unconscious, if I try to address their fear by defending myself – no, I am not taking money from Chuck, no, I don’t care what job I will have after the trail, no, I don’t care if I am not “reasonable” – I am actually fueling the problem by giving it my energy. 

If I couldn’t solve the issue by my actions, I figured I’d explore non-action next. When faced with an irate squirrel, would Gandhi have better luck than Newton? I returned to facing the woods and sought that place of peace in which I found myself prior to the squirrel’s arrival. It was not easy. He was VERY distracting. I slowly let the chirping become just a sound of the forest in my ears, concentrating on not attaching any more importance to it than to other forest noises despite its loudness and proximity. As soon as I managed that, the squirrel gave me one last expletive and ran off. Conclusion: either the experiment was flawed (i.e. the squirrel just got tired of me and my experiments) or I just hit upon a pearl of woodsy wisdom: Just let the chirpers chirp and follow your heart. 

P.S: The encounter lasted probably less than 10 minutes. I am a little concerned suddenly that I might not have brought a big enough journal for the trail. I am going to be SURROUNDED by irate squirrels and other metaphorical creatures 24/7. I might have to become succinct – Hey, I resent that Hallelujah. 

7 days until departure. Enough philosophical nonsense for one day. I’ve got gear to pack!!

* I have arbitrarily assigned a gender to the squirrel because I was having trouble keeping my pronouns straight if I referred to him at “it”

 

Getting lightweight ducks in a row.

This is the final contraction. Savasana is the final posture of any proper yoga practice. It means surrender. Savasana is that delicious moment when you get to lay flat on your back and just melt into the floor in complete relaxation. To increase the sensation of surrender and relaxation, some teachers like to have a final contraction right before Savasana. The body is rolled in as tight of a ball as possible, all muscles are contracted, face scrunched, breath held, squeeze, … and relax. I leave for the PCT in 7 days, and life sure feels like it’s giving me a final squeeze before I can be released into the wild.

I have weighed every piece of gear I am planning on taking. The final count is 11 Lbs for gear, with an additional 7 Lbs for wearables, which include clothes, shoes, poles and rain gear. So a total of 18 Lbs before food and water. Add a bear canister, some warmer gloves and additional rain gear for the Sierras for a total of 22 Lbs. This is lighter than the day packs I usually carry. For the PCT though, it’s too heavy. My task today is to go one more round through, cut labels, reduce containers and  question every piece going into my pack.

There are different levels of needs. There are basic needs. I need a pack to carry my things and shoes to walk on the trail. They’re going. The long phase of research of what’s the cheapest, lightest, most functional gear I can find and afford is done, and I will likely not change my system this late in the game (though I might after I start hiking if it really doesn’t work for me). There are safety needs. I probably will not sleep in that tent more than a few nights on the trail. I know how I work in the woods, I always want to be outside under the stars, but if the weather really turns epic, I’ll want that tent. It’s actually a tarp-tent and it’s only 20 oz, so it’s going. Even with the safety needs, there is some grey area. Do I really need rain gear in the desert? Can’t I just dry off? My criterion for this category is ‘will it significantly reduce my chances of death or injury?’, if yes, it’s going. Everything else is luxury. Some luxuries I am willing to suffer a few ounces for, like the ipod, journal, harmonica, camera. My criteria is ‘will it significantly improve my quality of life on the trail and entice me to keep going?”, if yes, it’s going.

I still need to lay out my maildrop boxes, put the maps in the appropriate box, with some food. I will be resupplying in trail town. I like the idea of “living of the land” and of keeping trailtown in business. The trail to me is not a hiatus from life, it IS my life. We don’t go through real life sending ourselves food packages, but a pack of Saos occasionally to wake up childhood memories is fun (this is a hint, if anyone in New Caledonia is reading this!).

On the topic of mail. You can send me things, but obviously, nothing I’d have to carry. You’ve seen the criteria. Food falls in the basic needs and is always welcome. The link above that says PCT Plan has a spreadsheet with addresses and estimated dates of where I might be.

D-7! Excitement level: off the roof!


Anniversary of not dying – story I wrote last year.

Exactly a year ago, I had a little brush with the beyond. This is the story I wrote that day. I am thankful to still be here so that I can continue to have adventures of this sort, and some less intense too.

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What not to do if you live by the Mississippi.

By Melissa Park. (3/25/2011)

I was in a very bad mood this morning, so I decided to go air myself out by the Mississippi. I have just met the river, but already it has provided me with good ideas, great sunsets and even an ice climber, so I hoped it would cure my case of the blues.

First, I was shocked to find out that the Mississippi flows towards the airport and not away from the airport past where I live. Because I had not yet walked to the other side of the bridge, I had not seen the middle part of the river that is not trapped under the ice. I was sure it flowed the other way. My mental map of where I live has been backwards since I got here! Pleased with having this wrong righted I decided to walk south, which is what I mistakenly thought I had been doing all along. My mood had already improved by the time I got to the other side of the river. This was a new trail, and I needed an adventure.

I found a path in the snow and followed it down to the river. The trail meandered through trees then out onto a flat snow field along the river. Now, I have never seen this river in the summer, so I don’t know what sort or banks it has. Is the steep part the banks? Was I walking on snow over a sandy shore, rocks, water? I really liked the trail because it was down from all the city commotion and I felt as though I was walking in the wild, plus it was in the sun. I thought “Well, there are steps here, and they look no older than yesterday based on the light dusting that covers them. The person who made these, based on the size of the footprints, was much bigger than I am and he (most likely a he) didn’t sink that much. And, it’s colder today than yesterday, so if yesterday was okay for a big man, even if I am over water, it should be solid enough to hold me”. They say that every accident in retrospect can be pinpointed to one bad decision … I committed to the trail on the flat.

It was a gorgeous day out despite the well below-freezing temperature. I took photos, enjoyed the sun, took deep breaths, looked at the trees. I walked this way, being careful to walk by the steps but not in the steps (because I sank less than whoever made the steps), for about half an hour. I was approaching a bridge when I noticed there was ice at the bottom of the man’s steps. I started the thought, “That’s weird. I wonder if the snow in the steps thawed and then refroze as ice with the colder temperature, or if the ice here is so thin that the water from the Mississippi is …”. Jolt of adrenaline, I was suddenly down to my left hip in water, left hand and arm included. I swore. My other leg was folded over the ice still, so I tried to push myself out, but the ice gave out under my right leg too. I grabbed onto the snow towards the shore, but the ice was breaking from the hole in which I was to wherever I tried to go. Finally, in a very ungraceful commando maneuver, I beached myself on the ice, kicked my legs out and belly crawled to the shore until I had a tree firmly in hand.

My heart was racing. I swore a couple of times to clear my head and said out loud “Who the hell is so stupid as to go hike alone on top of a frozen river!?”. I took my gloves off to wring them out, but they froze solid in their wrung position. I cracked the ice off them and put my hands back in quickly lest they become so frozen as to make them unwearable. My left leg and boot and my left arm from the elbow down were covered in a thin sheet of ice. A pain in my left thigh let me know that I will have a bruise to commemorate this event.

Without much thought except that of getting away from the danger zone, I started scrambling up the slope. Right up there, only 30 feet or so up was the road. I just needed to get there. But as the slope got steeper, I realized my epic exit wasn’t over yet. I stopped about midway and considered my options aloud (I don’t know why I speak aloud when I am epicking by myself; maybe to make it sound like somebody else is there). There was no place to walk below except for the trail I had followed, and with the day advancing I figured I was risking more icy baths by the minute. I was lucky on the first one, but not willing to tempt fate any further. It was too steep and the trees were too sparse to traverse. I could go up, but it only got steeper. I dug in the snow to figure out what lay below. More ice! Nice slick rocks covered in ice with heavy caked snow on top. I think at that moment I was not any less concerned than if I had been on a high alpine route and discovered I took a wrong turn.

That was the deciding factor: although the way up was scary, it’s the kind of scary I know, and so far God or the universe or whoever looks out for small dogs, old ladies and stupid climbers has always had my back. A little off to the north, I saw a rabbit trail. I figured animals are much smarter than we are about trail finding, so my best bet would be to follow it. It was the right call, except for the fact that I weigh slightly more than a rabbit. I was soon stuck on a tree belay, just 6 feet below the lip to the road, with not another hold for feet or hands within reasonable reach. I stayed at the tree pondering whether to try my luck elsewhere or leap for a branch hanging over the lip to the road for a while. I thought that without an ice axe, if I missed, I’d likely tumble all the way back down to the river and break a leg or some other body part. My pants were freezing back into a solid object, so before I got too cold, I lept for the branch. That branch led to a tree that had a branch that led to the top. And that is how I got out.

It felt so anti-climatic to find myself on a road in a pleasant neighborhood with cars driving by, while I stood there, a death-defying ice-caked weirdo, that I just laughed for at least a full minute before moving on. Maybe it was  nerve release too.

I walked home on the road and by the time I got here, my gloves and pants felt like they were made of inflexible plastic. It took me a while to thaw, but I am well and warm now. Thank you to all who worried about me.

Epilogue – As I thawed in the shower I thought … what if I had fallen all the way in? Would I have known how to get out? Nobody could have seen me from the road where I was. Nobody would have worried about me until tonight. Would it have seemed strange to my friends if I died in the Mississippi? In the middle of a city? Is there anybody to whom I would have regretted not saying goodbye? Or made peace with? Maybe the adventure was not so epic as to warrant such thoughts, but I’ve been pondering a lot of existential questions lately, so it hit me at a good time. It was a good reality-check. A don’t be blue, you’re still alive-check. So, although I don’t plan on doing anything quite that stupid again anytime soon, just know that I am selective in my choice of friends. If you are reading this, then you are special to me, and I am thankful to have you in my life.

XO – Mel.

Photographic progression

Image

Here is a little experiment I did while in India. Every Saturday afternoon, around 3 or 4 pm, I took two photos of myself. One from the front. One from the side. During the Yoga Teacher Training, Saturday was our day off, so that day was likely to capture me in a more natural state than on days when I woke up at 5:45 am to do breathing and meditation exercises.

1 – Taken the day I got to Rishikesh. It was still cold then.
2 – After a week of class. I had just spent the day in the market, acquiring an orange jacket and third eye decoration. it was a very good day.
3 – After two weeks of classes. I had just spent the day hiking to a temple on top of a mountain and was feeling pretty darn good and happy.
4 – After three weeks of classes. I had just spent the day skinny-dipping in amazing waterfalls, climbing mountains and riding on the back of a scooter. I was feeling even better than the week prior.
5 – Training is over. This one was taken by the sacred Ganga River with friends.
6 – After returning from the Himalayas where I lost half my weight to a pit toilet.

I think it’s funny that I am progressively more scantily clad, tanner, smiley-er and look more rested until that last one, where I look positively crazy. I didn’t even put the side one for the last week. It just scared me too much. The moral of the story is that it takes a while to look rested and only a few days to lose it all, so beware of belly-bacteria.

That’s all for now.
XO . Mel.

Flight is booked, date is changed.

Oh, here it is … my first official PCT post. How exciting!
India is done. The only thing I have to do now is get my featherweight ducks in a row and get to the trail.

I have had the date of April 15th as a departure date in my head since the day I decided to walk the trail, but it seems that is not actually my departure date. I will be flying into LAX on the 17th of April. An old friend will pick me up and drive me to the trailhead from there. I will therefore start walking either on the 18th or 19th.

A few days off. Such a small thing, and yet, the decision to change my departure date will change my entire life. You think I exaggerate? By leaving on a different date, the set of people I will meet could be completely different or at least the timing of meeting the same people will be different, which means our interactions will be different and the experience or perception of such I will have will be different, so I will grow in a slightly different way than I would have if I had left on the 15th. So in the end, I will be a different person than I would have become had I left on the 15th. Oh, butterfly effect, how quickly complex you can make things for those who think too much about such things.

On the other hand, it will probably change nothing, because I was most likely always meant to leave a few days later. The universe likes to keep us on a need-to-know-basis, or maybe just me. It knows I like to be surprised and speculate about the what-ifs and rumble about it aimlessly on this site. Wasn’t it so much better when I was getting up at 5:45 everyday for a full day of yoga teacher training and I didn’t have any time for such nonsense? Don’t answer that.  I believe that everything is exactly as it should be, and I am exactly where I am meant to be, so I was always meant to leave later than the 15th and meet the people I am going to meet in the fashion I am going to meet them … and that is an encouraging thought (yes, Chuck, I did just quote Gandalf)

Let’s just hope that said encounters will be interesting enough so that I have actual stories to write instead of nonsensical philosophical speculations.

I’ll go do something productive now, like finish sewing my backpack.

 

Left over stories

Here are some that didn’t fit anywhere else. I will write them as they come.

Chotiwalla Restaurant
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There is a restaurant down the street  called Chotiwalla. I think at some point it was one of those famous landmarks in Rishikesh because often people give directions starting with “From Chotiwalla …”. The food served is classic northern Indian, nothing fancy. Its real claim to fame is the very large, painted, live statue at the entrance. Here is the problem with Chotiwalla: Some years back, the man who owned and ran it very successfully died. Like in Indian fables, that man had two sons who did not get along. I hear there was quite a fight, but neither brother would let the other run the restaurant. Finally, since a reconciliation could not be reached, the restaurant was cut in two, straight down the middle, by a concrete wall.  The tables are the same, the decor is the same, the menu is the same, but there are two kitchens, two sets of waiters, two entrances, two Chotiwallas: the “Original Chotiwalla” and the other “Original Chotiwalla”. There are also now two live statues, and it seems to me that the fighting brothers must have hired twins because the live statues truly look identical. I walk by almost daily. There are these two Buddha-looking painted men in colourful clothes sitting on gliterry golden elevated thrones at the entrance of each half of the restaurant whose sole job is to peer luridly at western female foreigners, entice Indian visitors in for a meal, pose for Japanese cameras and ring loud bells whenever a customer enters their half. I am convinced that the bells are there primarily to piss off the sibling on the other side. I’ve eaten at the southern one (away from the Ganga) and was less than impressed with either the food or service. I’ve been meaning to take a photo of the Chotiwalla fat twins since I got here, but I have gotten so tired of their condescending stares that I refuse to lower myself to gratify their existence with a photo. Still, the whole situation cracks me up whenever I walk by, and I thought I’d share.

more stories to come … Ayurvedic massage awaits. I must go.

And the award for worst night ever goes to …

In the category of worst night ever, the nominees are:

1) November 2001 – Intense belly ache during an overnight flight from Yemen to Amsterdam, with a 6 hour layover in Abu Dhabi airport, voted second worst airport for a layover by some independent survey (for real, I’m not making this up. I don’t remember where the worst was, but I can’t imagine worse than Abu Dhabi). No place to lay down, rude people, metal seats and cold tile floor, all in a “mushroom” shaped building with dirty toilets, no foot, no water and armed guards at every corner. My God that sucked.

2) February 2004 – Somewhere in the Tunisian Sahara, staying with some “bedouins” who took Chuck and me to their shack in the desert. Because I’m a woman and didn’t want to sleep in a room with 15 sweaty, horny Tunisian men, Chuck and I ended up in the camel shack, with one blanket too small for the two of us, bugs crawling off the thatched walls and out of the sand onto us. No stomach ailment there, but very sore ass from riding a camel all day to get there. The shack stunk, we froze our asses off and the night went on and on and on. Somewhere around 3 am, Chuck and I found ourselves discussing in all seriousness if it would be worse to stay there or to try and cross the Sahara on foot to the nearest town, even though we had no idea where it might be.

3) March 2012 – Explosive liquid diarrhea in a “guest house” in the Indian Himalayas. The only toilet available was an Indian style pit toilet. It was too cold to go outside, especially since my shoes were soaked from trekking to that point in unforeseen snow. I was up all night burping rotten eggs and repainting the toilet. The room was filled with smoke because our guest house neighbors had a fire going in their room, but we couldn’t really leave the door open because one in my party was afraid “the bears would come into the room”. I was too sick to argue. I had to go every 15 to 30 minutes, which actually was manageable until another one of the 4 people in the room also got sick and that toilet had to be shared. The only redeeming 30 seconds of that night was when my sick friend, sometime after a particularly epic visit to our shared toilet, said to me very quietly and in a dignified voice “Your aim is terrible”. Laughter is always good medicine.

Who gets the award? I really don’t know.

I haven’t been able to keep much food in for a couple of days (actually, it’s almost a week now). The 10 hour drive each way to the Himalayas on narrow twisty bumpy roads also rates pretty far up in the suckometer, even though following the Ganga most of the way up afforded some pretty views. I would like to say the trip was worth it, either in time, effort or money. I never ever want to be one of those jaded people who cannot appreciate what is at hand because they are constantly comparing it to what they’ve seen before, but when one has flown over the Cascades in John Scurlock’s little plane, when was has in full good health sat at the top of Eldorado Peak, or slept on Baker, or partaken in any of the other Pacific Northwest activities I sometime take for granted … when all this, it’s hard to get impressed by some snowy peaks in the distance.

Well. I wanted to see the Himalayas, I saw them.

I am now back safely in Rishikesh. I feel “long” from all the weight I’ve lost. Even my tight yoga pants hang sadly over my butt. I was, however, able to keep a full bowl of fruit in this morning, then I met a lovely lady in the corridor who gave me some electrolytes, I slept a full night with only minor trips to the toilet. I’ll probably spend the rest of the day sleeping on the beach by the Sacred Ganga. I feel stronger by the minute already. All is well, all is well.

Actually, all is always well. Even on sucky nights, I would not want to trade my Bobcat life for anything else in the world. Even at the worst of it, I felt at peace with the ways of the world. Some days feel rough, others feel wonderful, but they’re still all part of the experience and I wouldn’t want to cheat myself by having only half of it.

Love to you all.
Ana, get that roast chicken ready. 🙂

Sat Chit Ananda

Sat Chit Ananda -> Beingness consciousness bliss

Now in the last stretch of the Yoga Teacher Training. I came to India very much feeling in line with my higher self. I mean, there is always corners to explore and growth to embrace, but overall I was feeling pretty damn blissful. What happened here was a little bit like meeting a map-maker and having him tell you that the road from point A to B goes through this town and that town that that other town, whereas you were pretty sure that you could just climb up through the woods and get there just the same. Last week I went through an oppressing feeling: Oh no, I’m not going through towns 1, 2 and 3, maybe I can’t get “there” (Sat Chit Ananda) by going through the woods.

But a couple of things happened.

1) Roast Chicken
We, the students and teachers of this yoga  teacher training, had a group sharing session. You know, one of those hippy moments when we sit cross-legged in a circle and share our inner-most feelings. I would have been appalled to even admit to doing this, much less to enjoying it, just a few years ago, but as things are, this version of the Bobcat wears a Om bracelet (interesting, I wrote a “home bracelet”), a bright patchworked orange shirt with Indian designs on big sleeves, she has some dread locks starting (they’re not staying) and has been known to chant to Shiva by the banks of Mother Ganga. Where was I going … oh yeah … So, we were in a sharing circle, and I was talking about how I am having quite a mental workout trying to fit and adjust the smorgesboard of new information within the framework of what I believe to be true from my own communications with my higher Self. Half way through my sharing speech, to my great dismay, came out the following sentence: “I just don’t want the path to enlightenment to involve never having roast chicken again! (Ahimsa – non-violence, a concern for the lives we take when we eat meat is one of the important tenants, though nothing is required in yoga, forcing oneself to an action would in itself violate non-violence – quite a quandary really) and also “I don’t want the path to enlightenment to involve getting at o-dark-thirty everyday!”. I even teared a little bit. That’s how strongly I felt about that. Then I had to giggle at the passion with which I was claiming back my sleep and meat. Don’t mess with my freedom of action (also known as Rule #7: don’t tell me what to do). Everyone was supportive of course, after they properly made fun of me, as they should. The seed was planted though. I have to do “it” my way. That is the only way I am going to do anything anyway, so why fight it.

2) To every monk, there is a path
Over a year ago, when I was living in the delightful Arthur house in Minnesota and engaging in accidental ice-swimming in the Mississippi, I randomly picked up a magazine called “EnlightenNext” edited and mostly written by Andrew Cohen. He is considered an enlightened man, one of the most supportive of the idea that human consciousness is ready for the next stage and that we are currently living out the end of the dark age of man, beyond which humanity becomes awake to its true nature. It’s a cool magazine. I read articles in there about where in the brain “God” lives and how quantum physics fits in with Chinese meridians. I like the western scientific approach in it. Religion isn’t for me. Rule #7 1/2, don’t tell me what to think. Andrew Cohen happens to be here in Rishikesh, so I went to see him talk. I had to endure an hour of chanting first, because God-forbid we would do *anything* without chanting first. The talk was simple and to the point. The gist of it is that the path is the goal. To become awakened, one only needs to be awake. Be present, realize that our perception of the outside world is but a reflection of our inner state, resist nothing, etc. Nothing I didn’t already know. I had a big smile ear to ear the whole talk. Not so much because of the talk itself, but because the message of our handsome Scottish yoga teacher, “to every monk there is a path”, finally trickled down from my brain to my heart and digestion system during that talk. That’s right, yoga, as a step by step practice to reach enlightenment I am convinced works and it is most likely the most efficient way to get “there”, but actually, I’m in no hurry. All this talk of ending the circle of pain and suffering or not having to come back down as a physical entity. But, I LOVE it down here. I love my life. I love who I get to play in the world. I love the world with all its faults and flaws and inequalities and injustices. I have no suffering to escape. I have no better place to get to. And I sure hope I get to come back. How can I not smile when the truth of that thought really hit?

3) Skinny dipping as a path to awakening
Yesterday was Saturday, our day off. Scarlet and I took a motorbike to a place above Rishikesh from which a hiking path leads to many wondrous waterfalls and eventually to the top of the hills that surround the Ganga valley, from which in theory we can see the big Himalayas, with snow capped peaks and such. It was a day of pure bliss. We left the trail early on, made our own path, swam naked in crystal clear waters by green pools in the jungle, watched monkeys and birds and butterflies go about their business. We sat in the sun for hours meditating, Scarlet in cross-legged position and me staring at fish in the waterfall pond, chasing lizard, investigating rocks (metamorphic sandstone, as expected), watching leaves come down the waterfall, etc. Basically, the same thing I did in Death Valley last April, that led to the strange and not yet replicated opening of all my senses to another dimension of Life. Hiking turned into bush-whacking then into scrambling, then into class 4 climbing. When the terrain finally got too sketchy, we turned around (Satya, truth, respecting one’s limit with honesty). It was the best day ever. I felt so “me”. It then dawned on me that comes April, I get to do this EVERY DAY for 5-6 months. To every monk there is a path. I am pretty sure I found mine. Oh yeah. PCT, you are only a month and two weeks away and I cannot wait!

That’s it. I might not get to see the big Himalayas (we couldn’t see them Saturday), but it’s all good. I want to roam Rishikesh some more with my days off and get you’all presents and chill and swim in the Ganga. I’ll be back here anyway, in this life or the next.

Good night. I hope you are all well, healthy, happy and out of trouble, mostly.

 

Rishikesh

My beloveds and other random visitors,

I tell you stories here because that is what I do, but in truth, I have not told you anything about Rishikesh. The stories I have told could have happened anywhere in India I imagine, or possibly anywhere in this general neighborhood of the globe, away from the over-safe-quiet-conscious west.

Imagine, if you don’t already believe or know this, that the life 90% of humans live, with their daily drama, interactions, needs, desires, worries and other normalities is but a story we tell ourselves, a dream we have about our life. Then imagine that the leftover 10%, maybe more, one day, through luck, wondering, good karma, or whatever it is, suddenly wake up to the real reality that exists beyond the story we all tell. But maybe not quite fully. They are like Neo the first time he meets Morpheous, contemplating whether he should take the red pill or the blue pill. Well, 90% of humans in Rishikesh (and I feel quite a few cows too) are like Neos, either right before, during, or after the taking of the pill.

You can go to the cafe and enjoy your chai tea while discussing the one Soul. That is completely normal, maybe even expected. People the rest of the sleeping-dreaming world would call enlightened, though I prefer the term awake, come here and sometimes live here. Miracles are common place. There is a man down the street that has been teaching yoga for 89 years. He is now 104, and doesn’t look a day over 90. There is a Brazillian man that can fill a room with entranced devotees. His mere presence makes you feel warm and fuzzy, and the chanting that takes place in his place of residence will bring up emotions you didn’t know you had. You don’t need to believe. It happens whether you do or not. There are sages who have not eaten for years because they can extract essential nutrients directly from the sun, the source of earthy life force. There are some that can levitate, or transport themselves to other places instantaneously. There are people dressed in white (yoga teachers mostly) who cast an aura of strength that is palpable within a 100 feet radius as you walk down the street, and some dressed in orange that have joy in their eye even though you would call them beggars, bums, homeless in the west. There are energy healers, tarot readers, sages, monks, shamans, seekers and beleivers. This is the Rome of spirituality. All spiritual roads lead here.

I think the Ganges helps. Up town, to the north of here, I saw a restaurant’s sewer flow directly into the sacred river. It doesn’t mind. Downstream from it, where my friend and I immersed ourselves for the first time last week, the water is clear. My friend had a wound that he had tried to treat for a few days. That night it was healed. As for me, the joy I felt for the rest of the day I feel cannot entirely be attributed to the mere excitement of jumping in a sacred river and having a story to tell about it. Even here, from the hotel, you can feel its presence, its calm, its strength. I’d go as far as saying its love.

But that is not the most amazing part to me. Great gurus and masters and sages – that’s fine – it’s the regular people, the hotel staff, the cooks, the shop keepers, the beggars, the cane-juice makers, the construction workers, etc. – that truly make you feel like you have strayed into Shangri-la (and if you don’t know what Shangri-la is, you should really read “Lost Horizon”). Sure, they like their pop-music, cell-phones and such, but when they work, they are most likely to sing “Om nama shivaya” (I honor the divine in me) . If they say hello, they might call out “peace” or one of the deities names. The whole town is vegetarian (sucks being a cat around here). Organic, Ayurvedic conscious, fresh food is the norm, not a fancy fad for rich westerners. I don’t know if it is the result of the training or a true reflection of the culinary magic that takes place here, but I have yet to have a bad or mediocre meal. I have a culinary crush on the chef at the Oasis Cafe down the street. I have a spiritual crush on several of our teachers. I have a joy-crush on this whole town. And in just a few minutes I am off to sushi (vegetarian, organic, Indian-style sushi).

That is how much I can say now. Rishikesh really should be experienced, not described. I feel like I am bombarded with important food for my soul, my brain and the rest of my life, but the rate of intake isn’t manageable, so I’ll just gulp it all and use the 5-6 months on the trail to let it percolate down and digest what I will and cast away what I won’t. The pull of the Pacific Crest Trail is getting very strong in me now. I am glad. It will make leaving Rishikesh less traumatic. I will be back anyway. The majesty of the Himalayas lays just out of reach, and I would feel I have wronged myself if I didn’t spend some proper time visiting them. I will, however, not have time this round because the day my teacher training ends, I am signed up for a tantra workshop – which is what you think it is, and a whole lot more too – and when that is finished, the Dalai Lama is coming for a visit. Maybe I can see the Himalayas from here, if I climb higher than the temple where I was today … but that is just another story.

Love to you!

What silence hours?

alternate title is “loud loud loud”, but only my lovely ex-husband would understand.

The yoga teacher training has started, prompt and early at 6 am on Monday and every day since. We go until 6 or 7 pm, and I am sore. But this isn’t the story I will tell you.

As part of the training we have silent hours from 6 am until after breakfast, which comes around 10-10:30 (and consists of a green smoothy and either beans and rice or a bowl of fruit). When I was in Bellingham, I imagined this time of silence might be a little odd. I imagined … well … silence, I guess. But really, what silent hours mean is that we don’t talk, except to ask questions when needed, while the rest of Rishikesh it seems works overtime to be as loud as it can possibly be. It’s almost like the Universe is trying to make up for our (and other yoga teacher training’s) major deficit in chatter. Rishikesh is a holy place for many Hindu, so pilgrims by the 100s sometime hit town. That is what happened on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, over the lunch break, I had to get across the bridge to buy some salt to make a mixture to pour into my nostrils as part of a cleaning practice (other story). That was, I believe the loudest experience of my life. The stream of moped and motorbikes was endless, horns full on at all time, monkeys screeching, cows mooing, vendors calling, drums playing, musics blasting, people shouting. About halfway across the bridge I began to feel dizzy, but I was stuck in the crowd, transported by the masses, a dead log in a strong current. I was deposited on the other side of the bridge in a state of shock, turned around, repeated the maneuver in reverse and went back to my hotel to hide. I guess I’ll get purified by salt some other time.

In addition to the pilgrims, there is the largest yoga festival coming into town and for the past two days, we had the privilege of witnessing not one but two Indian weddings. Both were last night, but the loud, cacophonous brass band has been practicing in the courtyard below our sacred silence Challa (place of practice) for two days. … take a deep breath in and go into the stillness of silence, the teacher say. What stillness!? I guess if I can be in stillness here, I can do it anywhere. We watched from our balconies a filthy back lot covered in cow and donkey shit and plastic bags develop and transform into a magical wedding palace in just two days. It was impressive. Some green turf was rolled on the ground, white linens were hung gracefully from wood structures, anything dirty was covered with rich brightly colored fabrics, flowers galore were brought in, and lots of gold colored dished. Further back, away from view, monstrous cooking pots were brought in and several fires started. Men and women worked all day cooking that meal, but my, was it sumptuous.

The music really went on all day, but we only got out of class at 7pm. A gaggle of Yoginis (female yogis) from class invited me out, but I chose to go with my new friend Angus. Angus is trouble. He’s originally from England but lives in New Zealand. To further the stereotype of gay men, Augus has a fantastic sense of style, a wonderful sense of humor and is rather handsome. His sexual orientation makes it all the better of a shenanigans companion, as I can be as flirty and crazy and anything I want to be without worries of consequences. Damn consequences. We found each other on day one, the two oldest in the group, which allows us to also be the most immature. Why ARE young people so serious?

So, there wasn’t much of a discussion that we were going to crash one of the wedding parties, preferably the one with the fancy setting we had watched come to life from our balconies (we live two rooms away). I first wanted to go to a sufi music show and Augus humored me, but half hour past the starting time, the band had still not showed up, so we decided to go eat dinner instead. That took an hour, as it often does (and we met all sorts of quirky people, as is always the case), so by the time we went back, the mood for spiritually enlightening music had passed and that for the Indy-dancy-pop party that was blasting so loud I’m sure it could be heard all the way to the Himalayas had fully kicked in. Since we paid for the sufi show, we made a guest appearance, but escaped after one song. We took a narrow side street (cow, mopeds, scary filth) to the back of the wedding venue, squeezed ourselves along the side, along with other wedding crashers and emerged in a eruption of sounds and sight. The groom had just arrived on gold and white decorated horses, preceded by the loudest marching band I have ever heard. In front, around and behind the groom was a block-wide dance party reminiscent of the carnival in Rio except in its gender self-selection. Only men and foreign women, it seems, dance. Women were decorated in their best saris, and sat or stood  respectfully to the side. Angus and I were approached by one of the entrance greeters. He first asked Angus something I couldn’t hear, then asked me where I was from. For fun, I said I was from England. Angus then leaned over and said “You are my wife”. I answered “I’m from England”. That made sense.

It took about half hour for the groom to make his way into the door because so many dancers were in the way. When he finally did, it was like a switch was turned off. The band stopped and simply walked away. I guess their task was simply to take the groom to the door and no further. The dancing crowd dissipated; we followed the wedding party inside.

There was a massive amount of people. It seemed everybody in town, including all the foreigners, had also crashed the party. We ran across one of our teachers, Fabiano, who looked like he just had some great fun. He said he had been dancing with the groom party since 8 pm. It was almost 11 by then. He said the food was amazing, and completely free. Since we had already eaten, we headed straight to the desert bar. There might have been a lot of delicious food, but getting to it was akin to trying to get a train ticket in the madness of the New Delhi train station. Press and squeeze forward with an extended hand until you magically receive something in it. It worked for both of us. We followed it with some hot chocolate and watch a pack of wild Indians shakin’ it up on the dance floor.

While Angus was off getting more sweets, I met Anoub. He explained that there would be no official paper to certify that this marriage took place. The way an Indian marriage is sanctified is by the witnesses, so it makes sense that the more people shows up, the more real the marriage is. These people were getting hitched for 7 lifetimes, which is the usual length for a marriage. Damn, we westerners rarely make it one! The bride was late, and we were getting sleepy, and the approaching 5:45 am wake up call was looming heavy and pressing into my fun until it made it uncomfortable. So, we headed back and missed the actual ceremony, which from what Anoub said is simply the bride and groom walking around a fire 7 times. Maybe we didn’t miss much after all.

I am forever in awe at my new-found ability to sleep through anything anytime, boom bands playing and banners flip flapping. I slept through two alarms this morning and was late for class.

“Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying
You’ll find the bright places
with the boom bands playing
and the banners flip-flapping
once again you’ll fly high
ready for anything under the sky
ready because you are THAT kind of guy”

(oh the places you’ll go – Dr. Seuss)

Good night! Test tomorrow. I gotta go – XOX.