Friday, April 24, 2009

Closing This Chapter of My Life Story

When I was in NY checking in for my flight to India, I met an older woman named Susan, do you remember her? Well, I will never forget when she said,
"This trip is going to change your life Cody."
Such a uncomplicated statement couldn't have been anymore precise and impactful for that's exactly what my hopes were set on with coming to India.

First and foremost want to express my undying gratitude from the innermost center of my heart for being given the opportunity to travel around India. I feel exceedingly appreciative that I had a well enough paying job making it possible to hoard my earnings (Thank you Brett), and that I had friends to heap on the love and support whenever I needed it. Most of all, I want to personally thank my parents. I will forever be in their debt for the unfathomable amount of love, inspiration and support I received from each of them.

All the matters I am going to talk about are solely based on my personal experiences and what I personally learned from them, so it may not apply to everyone. There is no fact behind any of this, its solely my opinion, so take it for whatever its worth.

The first question to be addressed is; "Why leave?"
When we are truly content with our situations in life, we don't change it, so why did I leave? All of my reasons came back to the underlying motivation to scrutinize what else is out there in the world for I was disgruntled with life. As the days progressed closer and closer to October 15th, more and more things in my life were collapsing into shambles, pushing me closer to India and further away from happiness. I didn't know how to change my discontentment, all I knew was that I needed a change of surroundings and a change in myself, so I could start over with as minimal dust on the mirror of my soul as possible. Ever since I began to sincerely desire to come to India, everything seemed to be programmed by a means I cannot explain other than to call it Fate, The Universe, God, or Karma whispering into my heart,
"Stop wishing to go, and put your dream into motion. First step; buy the ticket, everything else will work according to that."
To my astonishment it did. The date for my leaving L.A. was completely at random and everything worked according with my hearts deepest desires. I am young enough to where I could skip out for awhile and explore the world and myself, not having the apprehension of meeting a mortgage payment or taking care of my children or meeting the responsibilities of a career job, so why not go to India? There was no better time than now.

"But why India?"
For starters, since as long as I can remember, Ive always been fascinated with other cultures in all their different aspects, and and there is no other country that gives you a taste so potent of culture, than India. Each state in India, feels like a different country because its so different culturally that the one your were last in. From the clothes to the language, to the people to the food, to the landscapes and to the weather. Aside from its cultural diversity, India has so much to offer to see and experience, more so than any other country. Anything is at your fingertips in India; From adrenaline pumping white water rafting, to being a camel jockey in the sand dunes, to learning the arts of Indian culture, to divine and sometimes exhausting spiritual pilgrimages, countless amounts of monasteries and ashrams for self-realization, to exquisite beaches to bum around, to scrumptious food, to picturesque festivals all year round, extraordinary temples, forts, and mosques, and a mix of people coming from all around the globe in hopes to experience it all. You could spend a lifetime traveling around India and not see or experience the whole India. India's essence I don't think will ever be able to be grasped no matter how many lifetimes are spent discovering it all. I chose India because there were certain things I wanted to focus on, and India was a perfect candidate. Most American young men my age, wouldn’t think about going to India if given the opportunity to branch out into a different country. They would most likely want to go to Europe, so they could legally smoke pot and get prostitutes in Amsterdam, or to get obliterated at Oktoberfest in Germany. I on the other hand, wanted to focus my energy elsewhere, on something more constructive, positive and tangible. The only touchable way I brought true peace of mind and lasting happiness into my life was through a spiritual practice keeping my life in balance. There is no better place than India to get oneself back in a spiritual check. India in its vast entirety has everything I wanted to explore, all in ONE place. No other place offers such a extensive array of experiences so why go anywhere else? Including all of this and more, people who come here are starting to realize there is truly something magical here that keeps drawing people from all across the world to see for themselves. But what is it?

Have you ever caught a glimpse of a truly happy person before? What was it about this person that made them so inciting? Was it the smile on their face as they drive their Ferrari down the road, or was it something a bit more deep than that? Maybe their health was perfect? Or still, not quite deep enough?...When I first got to India, all I saw on my way to my hotel was filth and people living in the midst of it, animals eating and sleeping in it, and young children playing in it. Seeing this, I felt disgusted with my own good health and the money in my bank account. The truly notable part was all I saw was smiles, and all I heard was laughter. At that moment, it became vastly apparent; India and the people here have something great to teach me. None of them owned a car, let alone a Ferrari, and their health was far from perfect, so why were their faces as fresh as beads of mildew on blades of grass? Slowly spanning over the length of the trip, I saw and was even blessed with the opportunity to talk to people who I felt must know something I don't know, like they were in on a secret to life that few people in this world know. Well, they do. Their secret, which is written in the major religions here, was their non-attachment to whatever possessions they owned and to life itself. I want to clarify what this non-attachment means. Non-attachment DOES NOT mean being non-participative, what I mean is they don't carry burdens on themselves, or cling to property. Learning the art of this non-attachment especially to my comforts, money and possession proved to be of much value to ,y enjoyment of this trip. Concrete slabs for beds became comfortable, cold bucket showers got warmed up to, no television kept my mind focused, pestering beggars became opportunities to drop attachment to MY money, and MY possessions turned into just things. The old bearded man in Delhi who told me I was crazy and that I need to drop my attachment to money was right. This magical way of looking at life was more predominant in the extremely elderly people but in a special way. Their faces shined as bright as a baby's face upon seeing its first toy because they never felt that aging is something to avoid or try to postpone. In America we spend billions upon billions of dollars on products to make us seem younger by coloring gray hairs, smoothing out wrinkles, covering up bald spots and not to mention the mind blowing amount of unnecessary plastic surgery. Why does our society feel aging is something to hide or be ashamed of? I cannot wait for the day for my hair to gray, I’m going to grow a FAT gray beard and be stoked about it! I cant wait for thick wrinkles across my face, because it will mean I lived a happy life full of big smiles! The lesson behind all of this is that we have to learn how to let go of what brings us pleasure in life, in order to enjoy it. We cannot fully experience the fruits of life, if we are grasping hopelessly for it. We will get rope burn from holding on too tight. Have any of you seen the movie, "Of Mice and Men"? There is a main character named Lennie, who is mentally retarded and isn’t aware of the incredible physical strength he posses which often puts him in sticky situations. When Lennie was given a bunny rabbit, out of excitement of how soft the bunny was and out of fear of losing it, he squeezed it to death with love. This happens all over the world, not just in movies. This is done in marriages by husbands and wives, in relationships by boyfriends and girlfriends, and its done to children by their parents. We hold on too tight, taking the life out of life itself. To have life, and enjoy all of its splendor, we must at the same time let go of it. This "letgoness" is essential to enjoy any pleasure life presents.

One of the reasons India is unique and special to me is because each day of life in India is a growth opportunity. Everyday, you are exercising and expanding your patience, kindness and compassion. From dealing with pushy aggressive touts, rickshaw drivers, beggars, a communication barrier, power outages in the midst of writing a 2 hour novel, no hot water on cold days, no water at all on hot days, and constant late transportation, to just name a few. The past several years of my life, I have given serious thought to becoming a monk, for I could see myself soaking up the monastery life for quite the chuck of time. Given the opportunity here in India, I started to honestly question my intentions behind this life changing decision. Many of us go through life, telling ourselves, and others a story, because the story is band-aiding a wound that we don't want to treat or heal. After many days of self inquiry I came to the realization that all of my intentions were for all the wrong reasons. I was a scared child escaping from the responsibilities in life in hopes to get to a safe haven where I will forever be whacked out in bliss. Behind this I learned that, I was placing peace and happiness outside myself, which is why Ive always felt dissatisfied with life. For example, I was placing it in this trip telling myself,
"Life will be so much better, happier and peaceful, WHEN IM IN INDIA"
or placing peace in years of meditation telling myself,
"Finally I'll have peace of mind AFTER I MASTER IT!"
India showed me that you don't have to renounce the world in order to live in it, even though many people do here. It might be the right path for some people and I thought with my whole being that it was for me, but its not. Having a balance between the worldly pleasures, responsibilities and a strict spiritual discipline, is how I want to live my life, and did here in India. But the truth of the matter is, true happiness is cultivated within yourself, and true peace comes from the contentment of where ever you are. Until that is cultivated, happiness and peace will never be with you, where ever you are or in whatever you do.

Have any of you taken the time to notice the monumental beauty behind a steadfast candle flame? It is a beautiful sight. This flame is unwavering, its robust destructive energy is contained and as so, is focused entirely on its being. But what would happen if that unwavering flame gets knocked over? Its catastrophic energy is released, and it could blaze up a firestorm that could destroy a lot of land or at worst even kill people. The most vital priority for the rest of my life, which always has to come first is my sobriety. My addiction is like this candle flame. I have to be constantly aware of its slaughterous energy for if I have it under control and contained, I am able to focus my energy appropriately to bring light into the darkness of my life. If my addiction gets out of control, just like the flame getting knocked over, it would annihilate my life and everyone else involved in it. I will never forget, when I was waiting to board in N.Y. Ive never felt so dislocated and out of sorts in my life and then my entire being was spellbound by the sight of a fully stocked empty full bar, alluring me to take a seat. Everything else in my vision vanished into complete blackness, and all I saw was this mouth watering sanctuary. Without a seconds hesitation I had a hallucination of swimming in that hideaway of alcohol. It felt good. However what struck me as odd was Ive seen many bars back home, even held my friends drinks and not had a problem, so why was I brought to my knees this time, taking every ounce of energy in my body to resist? Its because I knew I could get away with it and no one would know. My addiction would plead with me taunting me,
"From this point out Cody, you have the opportunity to be anyone you want to be, to completely reinvent yourself. You are going to meet so many people who don't know about your past, present or future, so INDULGE you fool while you can get away with it! When you get home, you can go back to normal. No one would know!"
It took some time but coming back to my senses,
"But I would know...And I like who I am...There is no need to reinvent myself...I love who I am and who I am becoming..."
This trip has given me the final test in my sobriety, that even in the mist of great trials and tribulations I have the strength to push my addiction aside even when I know I could get away with it, I can focus my energy on truly experiencing the many tasty fruits that life has to offer.

Have any of you ever taken the time to really see water flowing in a river? Its a beautiful sight. It flows with grace and ease over anything in its path never looking back. It focuses solely on where its going. The two most important aspects I cultivated while traveling was to go with the flow of the current of life and readiness. Have you ever tried to resist the current of the river before? Sometimes it is very difficult to stand your ground let alone move forward, is it not? Its so much easier to go with the flow than to resist, common sense no? Life is no different. Why resist and make conflict? All it does is make your head hurt and face frown, and that will bring everybody down. So much of our energy gets wasted on conflicting ideas and emotions. When we can let go of our ideas of how we think things should be and go with the flow of life, we will know true peace. What truly matters is, the awareness of "WHAT IS" actually going on, and the grateful acceptance that you are alive and experiencing it. Why be anywhere else? Why do anything else? You are where you are, so smile. Each moment of life is too precious and short to be anything but happy and content with where you are, to just be, and to be alive experiencing whatever life unfolds, with a smile. Doors close for others to open, go with the current of the river of life with a smile and you will be truly rewarded. But what happens when the river reaches a dam wall? It stops , becoming utterly still and patient, does it not? However, what happens if the wall cracked open? What happens to that calm water? The water immediately without hesitation pours out. The readiness of that water didn’t hesitate a second to pour out for the water is always ready to pour out. This is what readiness truly means; to expect nothing but to be ready for anything, and proved to be of great value to mental clarity on this trip.

Since the beginning of humankind there have always been people who worship the sun. Without the sun everything would perish and wither away on Earth. The sun bestows its light and warmth unconditionally, to every man, woman, child, plant, insect or animal, regardless of what they do or don't do for it. The sun has no enemies, strangers, or friends for it passes down to everyone equally with its light and warmth. The sun to me represents each human’s capacity to unconditionally dispense their love to all living beings in life. By the loving grace of God I have been shown what it means to truly touch souls with another human being by realizing the loving potential in my heart and transmitting it to everyone expecting nothing in return. This is an experience of inexpressible joy. What happens when dense black clouds get in the path of the suns light? Light and warmth are diminished, no? I feel clouds represent the guards each one of us has that blocks us from pouring forth the greatest fruit life has to offer, love. Ive never truly experienced such joy until those clouds were fully out of the path of my love pouring forth, REGARDLESS IF THEY WERE A FRIEND, ENEMY OR STRANGER. I think you all can agree with me when I say love is truly the greatest gift to hand over, no other emotion compares to feeling loved. The entire world needs to open their hearts and realize their capacity in themselves to dish out to every man, woman, child, plant, insect or animal with the purest love they have, regardless of what they do or don't do for us personally. Stop reading this for a minute and imagine what the world would be like if each one of us had this intention behind every action we carried out in our day to day lives. Without love, life will never have any real depth. The true beauties of the world cannot be seen, let alone felt. The single most important thing in the world is love, and sadly its what the world is lacking the most. Without love our world would crumble in an instant, are you aware of this? With all of this in mind, may each one of us use the sun as a means of motivation to be a beacon of light, love and warmth for the true benefit of all beings in this world full of darkness.

Flowers are beautiful gifts from God, are they not? Have any of you ever taken the time to really see and smell a flower before? Its a beautiful sight and smell. India has quite the overwhelming of the senses and one of those being the sense of smell. So many repulsive smells and fewer pleasant ones. I remember very vividly walking along a pathway on one of the meditation courses and in the midst of thick green foliage lining the walkway was one flower blooming bright, exalted up to the world. So I stopped, got a closer look and took a long exhilarating whiff that made my whole body tingle in divine intoxication. Flowers are extraordinary to me because a flower never wants to be a tree or a shrub, it wants to be exactly what it is, a flower. Flowers shine like no other piece of foliage because it believes the fact that it is complete and beautiful as it is. One of hardest things Ive had to tackle in my life was to learn to fully accept, love, and be content with every aspect of myself; To see myself as whole and complete as I am just like a flower. To not feel inadequate because just like a beautiful flower, each one of us are complete as we are, and once we truly believe this we will always be in blooming beauty. A flower that just opened to the world is a beautiful sight is it not? I feel flowers represent each human’s beautiful nature within themselves. When a flower hasn’t bloomed yet, it is closed and its beauty is withheld, confined from the world. Just like with humans, when a person is closed to the world, their beauty is withheld. But the moment the flower slowly creeps open the petals to the world for everyone to see, it shines with all its beauty and as a result is a truly magnificent sight. Imagine what the world would be like if we all believed in the fact that we are beautiful as we are opening the pedals that confine our beauty that lies within us.

Trees are a magnificent gift from God are they not? These towering beasts are supported by meters and meters of roots. If you need to kill the tree, what do you have to do? Kill the roots. Without the roots, the tree dies. The people in my life are the roots, the life force, the glue holding my life together. I consider myself extremely blessed that I had so many people to miss and want to see while away and that so many people to miss me and want to see me while away. The people we choose to have in our life are very crucial for they either contribute to our life or death. When I was not in a good place in my life, the roots that held up my life were contributing only to my doom rather than my bloom. Once these dead negative roots were killed off, only the healthy positive roots remained helping me to grow in vibrant loving delicacy. Being away from all of you for so long has opened my eyes to how much each and every person means in my life, for each and every single on holds an equal spot in my heart for who they are. This, was my the highest hurdle to jump over each day; That I couldn't be with, have a hug, or even talk to the people who mean the world to me. Through this, I realized how powerful memories can be, for at times it was all I had to sooth the loneliness I felt. In times of great despair like with my rash in Kerala, these memories were invaluable to me. The comfort each memory I have of each one of you back home, brought a warmth to my body like a blanket on a cold day, and for the briefest of moments, when I closed my eyes and focused on each of you, it felt like you were sitting right next to me. At this point, I was free to talk to you if I wanted to tell you about my experiences or to tell you how much I miss you. That's the beauty of memory, no one can take that from you for its stored in your heart. Ill never forget how that felt. To sum it up, my friends and family mean more to me than anything.

Have any of you ever seen a moth mistake a candle flame for a mating call? If so, what happens? The moth without hesitation flys directly into the flame and gets burned to death. A major obstacle I faced not only in this trip, but in all aspects of life is tasting the many flavors fear comes in. Now, I’m not suggesting we should blindly kill ourselves but behind the moths actions there is something truly inspiring, if we look close enough with the scales of our eyes and heart. It saw the flame and without a moments hesitation followed its heart and did whatever it could to get it. On the way to its impending doom, the moth wasn't fearful about rejection or death, it died without fear pursuing what its heart desired. The moths actions set a great deal of inspiration for me because I encountered great fear everyday but the antidote was to follow your heart because your heart never leads you astray. Listening to and following your heart is what truly gives life meaning and this trip has taught me to not let the fear of the mind, no matter what the flavor, cloud the passions of the heart. I truly felt free to the world and through this I realized my life passion or calling; To see the world with a backpack on my back, having no real plan each day, not knowing who ill meet, where ill sleep, how ill get there, no agenda, and a pad and pen jotting down my sights and experiences so I can write about it to those who care to read it. This constant uncertainty truly was the essence of the journey and it made it such. Each moments uncertainty brought with it a freedom I never knew existed. May we all use this as a means to cultivate the awareness to listen and follow our heart.

After spending a few months in India, I feel this country and its essence can be compared to one of those 3-d pop out images. Have you seen these before? This picture at first seems to draw lots of confusion for it seems to just be a mess of colors, nothing special, no piece of beautiful artwork here. I was extremely confused upon seeing India’s "mess" at first. The overwhelming amount of excrement, pollution (air and litter), the violation of "personal space", cold long uncomfortable stares and more attention that Britney Spears walking down the streets of Hollywood. However, given the right mindset, patience, and time, this splotched mess's beauty slowly was revealed. When you look past all of this, the beauty reveals itself, just like the 3d picture. You have to look past the image and then,
"POW! OH! That’s it!"
You see it. Some things like the excrement and pollution I cant explain other than when you catch a glimpse of the magic behind this country, these feeble issues are overlooked and in a sense forgotten about and accepted. Everything Ive been able to adapt to, some slower than others but each second of life for me in India was a transformation in motion. Each second you are adapting and changing your views on things because India forces you to with its situations and experiences that you are put in.

One of the last things I want to leave with is a quote, from one of my favorite movies, "The Shawshank Redemption". I feel no other quote fits this trip more perfectly.
"Some birds were not means to be caged their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you knows it was a sin to lock them up, does rejoice, but still, the place you live in is that much more dry and empty when they are gone."

Ive always believed with my whole heart that everything in life happens for a reason, and I believe the answer is two fold. The first side of the coin is that everything that happens in life is an opportunity that each individual has to decide what kind of life they choose to lead and live by the actions carried out, the intentions cultivated and the desires seeking fulfillment. India opened my eyes to the reasons why I felt disgruntled with my life back home; I was responding to life in the wrong way. My eyes have been opened to the realization that the way I responded to life in the PAST, were the causes of my PRESENT discontentment and how I reacted to the present was repelling happiness for my FUTURE. If you want to look at your future, look at your present actions and intentions. If you want to look at your present situation look at your past actions and intentions. With the situations and experiences of everyday life here, slowly the veil was uncovered and I found the change my life needed. In my past, I spent many years leading a life leading me to a couldasack, reaching a stopping point in my life for all I was doing was running around in circles screaming,
"Why am I not getting anywhere?!?!"
I was living a life that’s only future was to forever run around in circles and be miserable, a life hardly worth the precious and wonderful gift of life. By the loving grace of God, I was given another opportunity to change, another chance to choose what type of life lead. Despite the actions I must make amends to, the destructive habit patterns that need changing, the backtracking I must endure in order to take steps forward, I dont condemn any bit of it for it shape shifted me into who I am today, and this is a person I can finally take pride in. For the first time in my 22 years of living, I can honestly say I am proud of who I am and what I strive to become.

The second side to the coin is that everything happens as a means to teach us something because behind every experience, situation there is God whispering the secrets of the universe into your heart, so listen and be aware. There is an undeniable energy in this world. Some people call it God, Karma, Allah, Jesus, The Universe, Mother Earth or whatever label you want, this energy force works according to your actions, desires, and intentions in a similar way to what science calls "The Law of Attraction" Truth is, I dont know what it is exactly, and honestly I don't think the label matters, but I do know the more I noticed it, the stronger it became. I know for a fact that this energy works with your hearts desires, for my soul desire was to stop living a life of pain. This energy heard my hearts plea, and paved the way for my trip and life. With each experience, sight, or smell, whispering to me how to be the change I wished to see in my life. Great inspiration lies behind this world, have you taken the time to notice this? Its in a candle flame, its in a river, its in the sun, its in flowers and trees, its in insects, its in people, its in experiences, its in all aspects of life. Being in India showed me that the real teacher or Guru is the world itself, the secrets to life are all out in the open, and in our daily lives. Its all a question of how we look at it, and if we take the time and awareness to hear the hidden wisdom.

I came to India because I needed a change in my life. I didnt know how exactly how to bring about the change, but I knew what the end result must be. That change has taken form in more ways than I can begin to count, so I guess you can say this story has been a success.

To close this chapter of my story
; How we respond to life with the actions we carry out, the the intentions we cultivate, and the desires we seek to fulfill, become the story of our lives. The story of my life is that it took me getting lost in a deep rut of darkness and pain, in order to find myself walking on a path of light and happiness.

I enjoyed telling you all this chapter of my life story, I hope you enjoyed reading it.

See you soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Varanasi: Living in India

"Sit down, and shut up or I will PUNCH you in the FACE!"
"What?!...I didnt do anything I just--"
(Carlos sit down man...This guy will level you....)
"This bus should cost 60 rupees, not 165!! Give him his money back we will find another bus!"
"No just--"
(Dude carlos, I dont want to have a brawl in a bus man...)
"Carlos, its fine, Ill pay for everyone just sit--"

Carlos then sits down next to me and at that moment it became apparent; we were getting held up on a empty government bus by small time mafia men for what amounts to about $6.

What happened was we got on a bus that was going to leave in 10 minutes from Sunali to a town about 4 hours away, so we could catch a train to Varanasi. No passengers were on the bus yet, so we get on, put our stuff down and take a seat. Immediately one man entered the bus and acted as the conductor collecting money for the tickets. His price was triple the amount it should be. I had no idea how much the bus cost so when he told me how much I handed over my money thinking he was the correct conductor telling me the correct amount. He immediately passed the money over to another man behind him, who then left the bus. Carlos asked me,
"how much was the bus?"
"165 rupees"
Carlos stands up and says,
"No No, it should be 60, get up lets get our stuff"
"Where are we going?"
"On a different bus, it should be 60 rupees"
The aggressive man came over to Carlos and that is when he threatened him to sit down and shut up or else we would get punched in the face.

Carlos at this point is wigged out. He whispers to me,
"That guy was going to PUNCH me in the FACE man...I believe him too man, that guy was SOLID man, SOLID. I grabbed his arm and it was like concrete man, SOLID. We need to get out of here man...We were held up on a GOVERNMENT BUS, not a tourist bus, this was infront of the driver MAN...Who knows what could happen to us on the ride, we need to get a new bus.."
While Carlos was freaking out, one of the guys dropped three tickets and 30 rupees change on my lap and disapeared.
"What are those?"
"The tickets and change" (The change we should have gotten for 3 tickets was 320 rupees, not 60)
(Carlos looks at the tickets)
"This means the conductor was in on it man! That guy bought the tickets at regular price from the real conductor, keeping the profit, maybe giving alittle to the driver and conductor for being in on deal, and left!"

So to give alittle background before I continue, Carlos, my new columbian friend, was on the bus with Ryan and I that went to Sunali from Pokhara, Nepal. He overheard that Ryan and I were going to Varanasi and invited himself to come along with us. Carlos is a 57 year old man from Columbdia, who was about my height and same build. He spoke with a rich columbian accent, and wore the attire of a druglord.He reminded me very much of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He is very intelligent man who knows alot of facts about how the world works, how politics work, and how countries work. He has been to India more than 5 times in the past 10 years.

So back to the hold up, Carlos's paranoia started to get me, Ryan was on another seat across from us, so he was able to keep his composure by not hearing Carlos. Carlos loved to talk, and this gave him an even more legitimate reason to belt out everything on his mind, which shouldve been kept to himself. So for the next 4 hours I listened to Carlos whisper through the side of his mouth about anything from not trusting anyone on the bus, to why the driver has missing fingers, to how he is going to "f&*% these guys" when we get off the bus by filing a complaint or talking to a police officer, or anything else his mind thought of. He wouldnt talk to Ryan because Ryan didnt understand the concept of speaking about this matter softly for he would yell to carlos and I, letting the whole bus know what we were all talking about. I kept wanting to move seats so I wouldnt have to listen to the ranting columbian anymore but I didnt want to seem suspicious, the only available seat was right behind the driver and I was not going to be anywhere near that guy. One thing was for certain, Carlos was completely wigged out which made me wigged out.

The driver was constantly looking over his shoulder at ryan, carlos or myself and carlos says
"I dont trust the driver man...Look hes all paranoid because those mafia men are not here man...This is a big deal cody, BIOLENCE (violence)on a government bus man...These workers LOVE their job, it gets handed down from their father and it is an honor for indians to work for the government...Once we get off the bus man, you watch, Im gonna f*^& these guys if there is a cop around, watch cody..."
"I dont think we should do anything, I dont want to get things worse for us, maybe even get folowed to our guest house, we need to just drop it"
"No Cody! Thats the problem, thats why this keeps going on because no one reports these things. If enough reports get in, they will investigate the situation, we need to do something man..."
"Just dont cause a scene, we need to do it discreetly..."

When we get off the bus we were the last 3, of course to get off. The driver and conductor smile at us and you could tell they were silently mocking us for they knew we could do nothing about the situation.
"This is not the bus station, take us to the bus station."
"No no no, bus station THERE! (points across the street)"
They didnt want to pull into the station because police are there and knew we were gonna try to get them in trouble. So we step off the bus and carlos curses the men out in spanish and exits the bus.
"Wait before the bus leaves, we need to write down the license plate"
"Already got it, lets goto the bus station man...Im gonna f*^& these guys man..."
So we walk to the bus station and ask for a manager or someone we can make a complaint to. We get shown to a small room with a desk, no chairs, just a desk and 2 mosquitoes for every square inch of space. I got bit over 15 times just from the time being there.
"Do you have paper cody?"
"Yeah, hold on. (I rip out a page from my journal and hand it to Carlos)
He immediately starts writing, and with each word that he wrote he said it outloud, dictating his own letter as he wrote it. I go to walk out of the door and he says,
"Cody! You need to help me with this come back!"
Carlos didnt listen to any of my grammer corrections for he was in the zone writing this letter. At each part in the story where he talked about the mafia men or the driver/conductor he would pause, and say
"Im gonna f*^& these guys man" and would bend the truth alittle bit making the situation seem more severe. Towards the end of our complaint, the superintendent of the station comes in and Carlos gets up and immediately re-inacts the whole scene.
"They used BIOLENCE (violence), brada (brother) BIOLENCE"
The superintendent was now joined by 4 other indian workers in less than 1 minute. Im sure that it was because they overheard or saw Carlos's performance. They all were looking at Carlos with much admiration, hell we all were, this was entertainment man watching this guy! After hearing our story the man says,
"I am very sorry this happened but we cannot do anything. These are mafia men...The best I can do is send this into the headquarters and hope someone there takes care of it."
"We just hope that the police INVESTIGATE the conductor and driver. BIOLENCE was used on a goverment bus man BIOLENCE do you understand? (the indians look down at the floor and shake their heads that they did understand) The driver on his right hand was missing his middle, pinky, and first finger, we want them to be investigated"
"The best I can do is send this off to the--"
"Ok, if that is the best ok.."
"Would you like some chai?"
"ahaha we would love some! Cody?
"You dont have to ask me twice!"
"Ah good man! Ryan?"
"I dont drink chai"
"Ill have his!"
Within a few minutes a chai walla (someone who fetches chai) comes and delivers 8 steaming cups of chai. Here all the indians even including ryan and myself all were watching carlos talk about india with his columbian charisma. The gleam and smile in the indians eyes were pricless, they were silent, listening and watching Carlos's every word and movement.

Shortly after the tea we left. Carlos roomed with Ryan and I, so we got a room by the train station, set down our bags and went and got some food. The whole night, Carlos wouldnt shut up about the incident. The whole night, even when the lights were out and people were laying in their beds he would go on and on and on.
"They used BIOLENCE man...BIOLENCE"
"I know that guy was going to punch you in the face"
"I know man! He wouldve knocked out my teeth man, he was SOLID man SOLID!!"
"We know Carlos..."
"Did someone lock the door man? I dont want any more suprises man"
Carlos gets up and checks that all the doors and windows are locked and somewhere around this point I was able to drown him out and sleep.
The following morning carlos gets up at 5 to try to hitch a train at 6 to varanasi.
"Goodbye you guys, Ill see you in Varanasi, if I dont, I will never forget you two because of what happened yesterday, together man. Lock the door behind me man, no more suprises man"
Ryan and I mumble something similar and I get up and lock the door behind him and fall back asleep.

Ryan and I hitched a train later that afternoon. It was supposed to be an express train which meant less stops and much faster but the 3 hour train ride turned into 7. There were problems on the train which is why we stopped so much and so frequent.

Immediately from the time stepping off the train into Varanasi, I felt that there is something in the air here. Both literally, and metaphorically. Varanasi is probably the most holy city in India, people come here to be burned at the ganga, just like I was talking about in Kathmandu, but the energy here doesnt compare to any place Ive been in my life. You can actually feel it here, its in the people, its in the air, its in your being, its everywhere. We got into varanasi at 8pm and immediately got an autorickshaw and headed out to a hotel. Nice hotel, cheap, and had an amazing restaurant. The rickshaw drivers were really nice and informative of the town, and best of all NOT AGRESSIVE on the 20 minute drive. He offered to be our guide if we wanted to do the sightseeing one day. He said it was a fixed price, we wouldnt have to pay not even a extra rupee the whole day, so we agreed. We told him the day after the next at 9am to pick us up.

The next day I spent the whole day walking around. Our rickshaw driver said to us,
"If you havnt gotten lost in Varnasi, you have not seen varanasi"
I got lost more times than I could count, I have the worst sense of direction known to mankind. To get to the ganga, you have to walk through a labyrinth of narrow alleys, which can make you feel like you are walking around in a circle, which at many times Im sure I was. Especially at night, it was even worse. I got so turned around so many times and walking around alone in Varanasi at night is not recommended. I was lost one night and one guy says he will show me where to go, so I walk with him and we make small talk about india and he even helps me alittle with my hindi. He asks then,
"Are you married?"
"ME? hahaha no"
"No girlfriend?!"
"Dont need to rub it in.."
Then he mumbles something and all I heard was "penis..penis..."
I stop walking, my heart stops and breath becomes deep...
"Show me your penis.."
"No no no no...(i walk backwards shaking my head)
"Its ok, no its ok"
All I could say was no and shake my head. At this point my adrenaline was pumping like a heroin addict because I didnt know if I was about to get raped by a gay indian. I try to clench my trembling fists but my hands are soaked with sweat I was so scared..
He then turns around and starts to walk the other way. I just sit down on the nearby steps for my legs were about to give out and I try to calm down and center myself before starting to walk again. Once I see he is out sight, I have to find a different way to get to my guest house because I didnt want to get raped while turning a dark corner getting to my guest house. The whole way back to my guest house, I walked with a knife in my hand for I was not in a good state of mind. I made it back safely and just got back to my room and was totally wierded out. I have no problem with gay people, that is their personal choice and right to choose who they love, not mine. But I do have a major problem when people cross the boundaries of another persons comfort level. I felt violated, even though nothing physical happened. I didnt sleep at all that night, I saw the sun rise once again.

The rickshaw driver was on time to the second the following morning. That day Ryan and I at first went and saw all the major temples in varanasi. At each place he had to park, when we returned he looked at me and asked for a few rupees for the parking, he had no money. So much for his promises... After this we wanted to got a near by city because its a nice buddhist town with lots of beautiful temples but he gave us a runaround about how it an exspensive toll road and he wouldnt take us for the fixed price, he wanted more money. Another broken promise, which is typical. At this point I was fed up, I gave him less than half of his rate and we walked to our guest house.

The next few days were ryans last in Varanasi. We ended up splitting into different hotels because he needed to get into a super deluxe place with cable t.v. because there were college basketball playoffs on that he wanted to watch, and I didnt want to pay that much money. We made plans the next few days to meet at the ganga to see the daily aarti ceremony. Upon meeting up, ryan says to me,
"Dude, youll never guess who I ran into..."
"YES! Dude I totally agree, there is something quite magical about this place...I was walking around totally lost in those alleys trying to get to the ganga and just when I think Im forever going to be stuck here, I see Carlos! I told him we would meet him here in a an hour"
We met up with carlos at the ganga and just talked about varanasi and the hold up, or should I say, we listened to Carlos talk about Varnasi and the holdup. After an hour of chit chatting, we split ways from carlos making a time to meet the next day same time and same place for a boat ride, for it will be Ryans last day.

Getting a boat on the ganga was simply amazing. Carlos ended up coming along with Ryan and I, and this truly was the best way to see varanasi. On a peaceful, silent boat ride at dawn or dusk was the real way to see varanasi. It was so peaceful and you get a better view of the tall buildings you walk along, but never really look at. You get to see the whole Varanasi, and it is truly amazing. After seeing the sunset, our driver let me row the boat and we go to the main cremation site. We sat and watched the roaring fires for a good 30 minutes in silence. Here the bodies were alot more revealed, for instance, one of the fires gave a clear view of a human skull, you could even make out the ear on the side of the head...According to the locals here the cremations have been going on for thousands of years, nonstop. There is one fire in specific that has been on going for 4 thousand years some people claim, and you can take alittle bit of ashes for yourself, if you desire to do so. They also claim that Varanasi is the oldest city in the world and that it is the exact center of earth. Once we started to get nauseated from the fumes we head over to see the aarti. Just like in Rishikesh, there is a daily ceremony by the ganga but this aarti is alot better. Here ryan and I buy a boat of flowers with a candle in the center and float this boat of love down the ganges. This will always remain as one of my favorite things to do in India,it never gets old, I love it.

After the majestic boat ride we all went to get some food at a nearby restaurant Carlos recommended. He knows almost everyone by name as we walk through the narrow streets and alleys, sometimes stopping at peoples houses to show us their family and talk to them. Here he would talk about how much the children have grown since the last time he was here a few years ago. Walking in Varanasi, especially at night, you have to watch where you walk. There is so much poop everywhere, literally, so much its ridiculous...I learned my lesson the first day here by not looking where I step, now I am very aware of where my feet go... At the restaurant, Carlos wouldnt shut up again. My energy just gets drained from listening to him pop off on rants without breaking...However, he is a very intelligent man, who knows ALOT about current affairs, polictics, and how the world works. Dont get me wrong I did learn alot from listening to him, its just my brain hurt after awhile...After dinner, Ryan went back with me to my guest house because he missed his train, so he crashed on the extra bed in my room. His new train left at 5am, so that night we said our goodbyes and laughed until we fell asleep again, just like in Nepal.
Ryan says to me laughing,
"Look at the people we get involved with man AHAH First its the miserable frenchman, now its carlos the columbian"
"HAHA CARLOS! That fool loved to talk..."
"That guy was going to punch me in da face man!"
"You know what man?...Im gonna F*^& this guy man"
After all the laughter was out, I decided to write Ryan a letter to get out what I wanted to say but didnt want to be a sobbing mess.
Promptly at 4am the next morning, he left. Grumbling and stumbling around, I find the letter and give it to him and tell him its been fun traveling together and to please keep in touch.
"Cody..Lock that door behind you man...I dont want any more suprises man"
We shook hands, gave each other a hug, then I went back to sleep.

The rest of the days in Varanasi Ive essentially been living here. Up until now, Ive just been traveling around India, but the rest of my time in Varanasi Ive been living in India. My home is a room in a guest house and it has everything I need. There I use a gas stove and have been learning how to cook my own indian dishes. Ive made very good friends with the young manager named Anil, who has been showing me how to cook these indian meals. The deal is Ill buy the ingredients for both of us and he will show me how to make the dish. So every couple of days, I would goto the same vendor for my fruits, same vendor for my veggies, the same chai stand in the morning, the same internet place to take my chai to, and as a result have came to know each of these great people showing me what it feels like to truly be living here.

Outside of this, Ive been taking tabla (indian drums) lessons everyday sometimes twice a day. I initially was going to a older man right down the way from my hotel but he tried robbing me blind for a tabla set so I started looking for a new teacher, one not so focused on money, who is focused solely on teaching and music. Anil asked me after my first lesson,
"How was your tabla lesson?"
"Good except he tried ripping me off buying a tabla, and his lessons are expensive!"
"What you mean?"
"He tried selling me a tabla set for 9000 rupees! It should have cost like 5000! and his lessons are 200 a lesson, where they should be only 100 or at most 150."
"Who you take lessons from?"
"Bagchi over across the way at the--"
"BAGCHI! He is a bad man, only out for money. I bring you two teachers tomorrow, one is my uncle the other is a close friend of mine, a professor teaching tabla at the university, BHU. Lessons are 150 and they come to your room. Good people, you see."
I ended up choosing the professor. His name is Bolanath, and he is a short, skinny indian man, dressed in traditional indian attire, from the neck down, but from the neck up he wears a baseball cap and designer knock off sunglasses. He makes me smile and is the exact kind of teacher I wanted.
"My god, is music. Every morning, I offer incense to my tabla and pray for God to bless me and give me power to play. God also bless me for I am much too happy, Cody, I am." Not only is he sincere, but he truly believes that music is his god. I like this devotion about him. He has been playing tabla since he was a young child and is now 59. After our first lesson he invited me one of his concerts at a nearby temple and at that instant I knew this is my teacher after hearing him play and sing. I am only in Varanasi to learn tabla for the rest of the time I am in India, so I take this very seriously and need a teacher who will treat me as such.

One day my Guruji (hindi work for teacher) took me to meet his family at his house. His wife died a few years ago and he lives with his 3 stunningly beautiful daughters, 1 brother, 1 sister, and his mother and father, all under one roof. Here he showed me the cds he has made with his son (his son plays tabla as well) while one of his beautiful daughters kept putting delicious food on my plate. Sitting on the cool concrete floor with my Guruji listening to his music with his family was a great experience of which I am truly grateful to have had. They were all so hospitable and friendly, after food we took rest. Men went into one room, women in another and took a nap. Indians tend to sleep after they eat.

The next day or so, I ended up buying my own tabla set with Guruji and the next day he brought incense to the lesson,
"Guruji, what is this for?"
"Puja, for your tabla! I give blessing for tabla, and give you blessing for you to have power to play!"
Here he waved incense, chanted a few mantras, touching the top of my head blessing me and my tabla.
"Ok now you can play, dont let anyone touch your tabla. This is your god Cody, only your energy here, understand?"
"Yes Guruji"
"Before you play, offer incense to it and ask god to give you power to play and you will be much too happy."
"Thank you Guruji"
"Your are most welcome Cody"
Shortly after our chai was delivered and the lesson began.

I spend about 6 hours a day practicing and 2 hours a day in lessons with Guruji. The people at the guest house have come to know that as soon as Guruji arrives for my lesson, within 5 minutes, we have 2 cups of steaming hot chai handed to us. When Im not in the tabla zone, Im cooking up some delicious indian meals with Anil, and when Im not cooking, Im working on the blog. When I can squeeze in some mediation, I do, but for the most part, I am focusing only on these three things.

Each day here I feel more and more at home at the guest house. Anil and I play chess, cook together, and he watches me play tabla. Ive even made friends with one of my neighbors. My neighbor to my left is a deathly skinny, tall, japanese man with long black hair and a thick thick accent. Every time I see him he showers me with the warmest smile and says "Namaste". He makes me coffee every once in awhile (always at night never in the morning) and I am constantly borrowing his utensils to cook. He comes to Varanasi just to learn Sitar. He was at the same guest house last year and is here this year for 6 months again, just learning sitar. All he does all day is practice, literally. His only break is on sundays.

It is starting to get unbearably hot here in Varanasi and it is getting worse by the day. I plan to stay and put up with the heat here until I leave to go home. I feel truly blessed to be given this experience, and for the wonderful people that have been placed in my life, this truly has been the highlight of my trip.

After this blog, there will sadly be only one more blog, a conclusion, a recap of my trip on how Ive grown, and what Ive learned on the way. The last blog is taking more energy than anything Ive ever put together. This is part of the reason for me going into silence til the end of my trip. I wanted to focus solely and wholeheartedly on tabla and the blog, nothing else. Ive never focused so hard and spent so much time and effort into something before and I am looking forward to sharing it with all of you.

You are all in my thoughts and prayers. I love you all.
Be HAPPY!!!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nepal: Listening To And Following Your Heart

Reaching Nepal required huge leaps of faith, immense risk, strong courage, unquestionable faith and most of all, listening to and following your heart.

Ryan and I traveled 16 hours on a train to a ghost town where we needed to immediately find transport to the Indian/Nepal border (Sunali). This, just like many other opportunities is a way to save money, and I will spend hours just to save even a dollar. Ryan doesnt comprehend why I (and other people) go through so much "trouble and headache" to save a dollar. He ended up popping off in the process of looking for transport and I regrettably fired back. Its extremely difficult traveling with someone who doesnt see eye to eye on this, because to him my effort is futile and he gets highly impatient to where he will "Just pay the extra dollar!". But to me, it makes all the difference in how long I can stay because when you are backpacking around India, or anywhere for that matter, every rupee, dollar, euro or whatever counts. Ryan doesnt have this problem. He has a 10 year visa and sold his house, so he has plenty of cash and time to spend those extra dollars. In any case, we found a local bus and upon boarding, things were already blown over and we bought some ice cream. That cooled everything down, both literally and metaphorically.

Sunali was definately a town not to spend a night in. In this border town, the energy is highly aggressive (even for Indias standards) and all the shops were broken down and grimey. Walking down the busy noisy street a lady in her later years, comes up to me smiling and wiggling her head. So I naturally start smiling and wiggling back when I see her pointing to my arm. My tattooed arm. She smiles after saying,
"Ganesha!" putting her hands at her heart center.
"Yes!..and Hanuman...Krisha...Shiva...!"
As I show her the rest of my arm and she shouts out of disbelief turning to her friend. She grabs my arm and thinks it is powder for she tries to brush it away.
I explain to her, "No No..Tattoo, tattoo!!"
Her eyes widen and a even bigger smile goes on her face as she pulls out a large thermos and offers me some chai. Ofcourse I glady accept, and then she vanishes in the cluster of people and rickshaws. Upon sipping this hot sweet cup of love, some foreigners from Australia come up to us and ask,
"Are you guys going to Nepal?..."
"Yeah...We have no intention on staying here AHAH"
"Do you know what is going on there?"
"Well I think we should warn you that they are protesting because we think of some election thats coming up, and have been the past 2 weeks making it nearly impossible to travel there or around there.."
"What?!?! What do you mean?"
"Well, we all just spent 4 hours trying to get through 4 kilometers of picket lines where the people were bashing the rickshaw with objects and screaming at us, just to get to the border...We passed by some buses that had been set on fire, had the tires slashed and the windows bashed in..."
"...Well, what is your advice?"
"Turn around...Turn around, unless you want to go through all that. Expect to pay for overly priced transportation that might not even make it to where you want to go...A bus from Kathmandu to here cost rs 1500, where it shouldve normally cost about 400. We did not even have a seat for the whole 9 hour trip, we had to stand in the aisle!"
"Wow that sucks...Thank you for the warning, BUT, I didnt come this far just to turn around now--"
"But Cody, I think we better-"
"Do what you want Ryan, I dont want to hold you back from anything you want or dont want to do on this trip, just as I dont want to be held back"
"Yeah but Cody..Buses were set on fire...Set on fire bro.."
"God has been with me every step of my journey. There is no doubt God will be absent during these times, I know, I KNOW we will be ok, all you have to do, is BELIEVE in this. This is a leap of faith my brother, jump."
"But what if God is asleep dude?...How do you KNOW we will be safe man.."
"I cannot explain it, call it intuition, bravery or even stupidity if you will...This next statement will sound totally idiotic but you cannot let your intellect get in the way of your heart. This trip has taught me an invaluable tool, to listen and follow your heart. Dont let fear of the mind cloud the passion of the heart."
"But what if we DO get placed in a situation like those people on the bus?"
"The only thing we can do, deal with it when it comes. If lives are put into serious danger there will be alot of injured protesters. I have no problem breaking my vow of non-violence, I think there can be exceptions...We cannot let fear block us from our ambitions bro, thank you very kindly you three for your advice, but im not turning around..Look are you in or not?...I have to atleast cross the border to get my visa stamped my 6 months are almost up, you can decide then if you want to leave or not, but Im going."
We walk up to the border, change indian rupees to nepalese rupees, get us dollars for the 2 week visas, walk across the border to the immigration office where we fill out some paperwork, hand over our passport and a photo, and presto! In ten minutes I got another stamp and visa record in my passport. We then get a cycle rickshaw to the closest nearby town, which was 4 kilometers away. We were expecting to pay millions of rupees for this short journey but it was fairly priced. We get in the rickshaw and arm ourselves for battle..So there we were on the rickshaw, jaws and fits clenched expecting at any minute to see this angry mob of picketers running at the rickshaw, but we didnt see any. We didnt see one picket sign the whole 4 kilometer trip, not even left over rubbish from old protests, nothing. We get to town and goto the first guest house we see and had one thing on our mind, food. When you travel anywhere in India, you tend to not eat too much on these long exhausting journeys, and if you do its not the healthiest choice of foods..Walking into this guest house we were greeted by the manager. He was a short Nepalese man, walked with a crutch, and was a hoot to say the least. Im pretty sure he was hammered every second I saw him, no matter what time of day or night. However it is completely plausible that his speech was naturally slurred and his eyes were naturally glossy and bloodshot. During dinner he kept talking about 1 thing. Pop music. He would also sing his favorite tunes, which were mostly cheesy Brian Adams songs. Those were his favorites and we enjoyed hearing him sing these songs, he had no singing talent whatsoever but he sang from his heart, that is all that mattered. Leaving the cheesy pop music aside, he told us he might have a bus leaving tomorrow morning going around the protests via the "mountain way" and was only a few hundred more than it should cost. He told us to come for breakfast early in the morning and he will know what time the bus leaves.

The following morning, we woke up and was down for breakfast at the time our short Nepalese pop singer instructed and sure enough there was a bus leaving in less than an a hour. We devoured our food in fast heaping spoon fulls, paid for the tickets and packed our bags in less than our 30 minute deadline. We got the first row seats which was a heaven sent blessing. These seats give you just a few more inches of leg room but those few inches makes ALL the difference in the world in terms of your comfort and sanity. It also helps to not have your head hit the roof on the crazy bumpy rides. Seriously. The Nepalese are like on a average 2 feet shorter than the American average, so you constantly have to duck quite a bit in buses or through hallways to not bump your head making you feel freakishly tall. Soon after boarding a younger tall, tan man, with brown hair came at sat in the asile across from us. He was from France and came to be the laughing highlight of the crazy bus extravaganza.

About 4 hours into the ride, our bus decides to break down. I think it was because of the mind blowing multitude of people squeezed in every nook and cranny in that bus, seriously. I remember very clearly reading a story when I first got to India about how a bus ended up skidding off a mountain cliff, and the headline in the newspaper was "68 people killed in a bus driving off cliff" and I thought that couldnt have been just ONE bus, the newspaper must have made a typo, it must have been THREE buses!!! BUT now after experiencing it, yes it is infact one bus. People were on the roof, yes on the roof, and crammed in the asiles and wherever there would be room. So back to the bus breaking down, I thought we just stopped to pick more people up and I bolt out the door to empty my bladder, thinking I have only a matter of seconds for this plan of mine to work. So in a hurried mess, I run down the nearby hill, and in the process, I slip. My feet go out from under me and I get completely airborne landing on my butt and skidding ALL the way down the hill. Laughter from the people above, roar hysterically and continue to be just as predominant when I returned to the bus. Ever since we stopped the frenchman didnt stop poking his head around what was going on. The conductor working on the bus engine was doing his best to fix the situation while at the same time drowning out the frenchmans constant demands,
"Your bus is dead...Give me half of my money back!! I will get a new bus, I dont have time to wait around!!"
The conductor ignored him the first 15 times until he finally snapped with,
"Just wait! Give me 5 minutes!"
This only stopped how OFTEN the frenchman demanded his refund. My spirits and hopes lowered with each demand. He kept checking every 5 seconds on either his bag or the status on the engine and was hilarious to see him go back and forth so neurotically. Anyone that came within a 2 inch radius of his bag was stared at intensively and if someone even made the slightest contact with it they were pushed off his bag and yelled at. Ryan and I were just sitting in our seat getting the front row view of all of this and it was great fun to laugh about. Just like the conductor said, 5 minutes later the bus roared up and everyone started piling in. The frenchman lost his spacious comfortable front row seat and ended up having to sit on the roof of the bus with the locals without a view of his precious luggage. He was none to pleased.

Shortly after we stopped for food and went to the restaurant to grab a quick thali and the frenchman ends up sitting across from me. We get served our food and after I say my prayers, I open my eyes and see him starting to eat his food, but some of it is moving...There was a bug in his food...This guy has had EVERYTHING go wrong for him this trip it seems and he doesnt see it. Should I tell him or let him be? Well, Id like to know if I didnt see it to atleast pull the bug out to not kill it, so I said,
"You...Have a bug in your food..."
"What where?....(Then after seeing it for himself he muttered some angry words in french, pushing his plate forward and storming out of the restaurant"
This thali goes down in my record book as the most exspensive and worst tasting thali Ive ever had. I had a hunger that could knock out a deer so I cleared my plate and actually got seconds and still was grateful for every gagging bite. I look up and see the frenchman eating some corn that locals cook up on coals on the side of the street. He was mowing through this corn like it was nobodies business. Poor guy, the first edible food he ate all day. Seeing his enthusiasm eating this corn, influenced Ryan and I to get a piece each. Our pieces must have been from someone different from who he bought from. Our corn was hard and tasted like cardboard. Then again, this is the frenchman, im sure it wasnt any different. From the side of us, came the sound of puppies screaming out in torture. And to my amazement was a wee bit shy of torture. There was two puppies locked in a cage that made the cages in pet stores back home seem like malibu penthouses. These poor animals had no room to even turn around to see what is behind them. This dilapidated structure was no larger than 2x2 feet with a chicken wire screen on the front and floor which their feet would constantly fall through because it was broken. All of this was locked in place by one piece of wood no larger than my middle finger. All I had to do was pull that piece of wood out and maybe, these puppies would make a run for it and escape from such abusive tyranny. Maybe. They were miserable and I totally sensed their pain and it made my heartache with each wimper and cry. These people didnt see anything wrong with their cage or even bashing at it when the dogs wimpered. This situation made me think of the movie Powder. At one scenes Powder encounters people that just shot a deer and he touches the deer which is on the break of dying and is able to see the pain the animal is going through. He then reaches for the hunters hand and transmits the pain of the animal to the person to see what the deer feels. I wish I could transmit that energy to these people like Powder did, make them experience what those poor dogs were feeling. Imagine if everyone had that ability, how much more different the world we live in would be. Crazy isnt it...

Time to get back on the bus and several hours later, we made it to Kathmandu. Nepal is similar to India, yet it seems alot cleaner, in certain ways and not in others. The roads were devoid of litter but there was a thick amount of dust in the air because Nepal hasnt had any rain in several months. The people are more friendly and far less aggressive. The toilets however are rank, for the most part that Ive seen, each one has been absolutely putrid, and this is comparing to Indian toilets...

After getting off the bus we get a taxi to our place which is a guest house essentially on monastery grounds where we were told we would be able to participate in meditations in monastery. The closest a layperson can get to the buddhist monastery experience without being ordained or enrolling in a course, so we were stoked. Driving there everything on and off the street is lit by candles and its only 7 pm. Nepal has electricity on only for certain hours of the day/night. Maybe a total of 4 hours a day and sometimes is different day to day. On the taxi ride we pass poor street vendors, almost piled ontop of each other outside of huge mall complexes like of what I would see back home. The taxi couldnt get through some of the mazelike alleys so we had to walk through a dark maze to arrive at the guest house. I could tell when we were at the guest house for I was able to make out that we were passing through buddhist monastery corridors. Rooms with giant prayer wheels, buddhist stupas lining the walkway, and the huge monastery, were all sights to feast our eyes on as we make it up to the reception office. We get shown our room and it is the nicest and cleanest room I have stayed in my whole trip. What a blessing. We sat down our stuff and headed straight to the restaurant where short Nepalese men cook up a vegetarian storm! The food was outrageously expensive but was worth every rupee. First time Ive seen tofu and a daily special list that reminds me of what I would see back home at Follow Your Heart. They had a lengthy choice to select from ranging from stirfrys, FRESH salads, soups, wraps, and desserts (optional vegan cakes!!!!) After a tasty expensive meal it was time to crash. Lying in bed, we start talking about the frenchman and start laughing hysterically which turned into uncontrollable laughter that makes your stomach and cheeks ache.
"I cant believe we got here man...I thought the protests were gonna get in the way, but thank God they didnt"
"Yeah..I thought the frenchman was right when he said "your bus is dead""
"YEAH ME TOO! Like he was a mechanic or something because he spoke with such undeniable certainty!"
"Wouldnt it be funny if the conductor gave him his refund when he wanted and then 10 minutes later we pass him in our bus?! AHAHA I could see the conductor flipping him off as we drove by! AHAHAH"
"AHAHAH Yeah I could see that...Its even better that he lost his seat and had to sit up on the roof..."
"AHAHA The frenchman..."
"AHAHAHA, What a charecter!"
"You know when we stopped for lunch?"
"There was a bug in the frenchmans food"
"On the corn?"
"No in his Thali...HAHAHA..That corn..He mowed through that corn bro, I dont think he had enough time to even see if there was a bug on there..God that corn was inedible!"
"HAHAHA!!! I know! That corn was horrible...What did he do about his Thali?"
"AHAHAHA He pushed forward his plate, AHAHA, muttered something in french and stormed out ahaha!!"
"HAHA! Makes sense then why he was devouring that corn..Did you hear about him getting bit by a dog in Varanasi?!"
"YEAH! He was like "I have to get another rabies shot in a few days because a dog bit me in Varanasi"..AHAHA"
"The FRENCHMAN! Poor guy, has anything gone right for him on his trip? AHAH"
"Doesnt sound like it. That guy travelled 3 days from Varanasi, barely sleeping eating or showering to get to Nepal"
"Yeah he had to stay in Sunali!"
"Ahahaha!! In that border ghost town?!"
"Yeah he said he couldnt sleep because of how gross and uncomfortable that place was"
"AHAHA The frenchman.."

For a day where I didnt really do anything physically, I was exhausted. A day spent traveling takes its toll on you. Going to sleep on the last note of uncontrollable laughter made for a very, very pleasant rest.

The next morning we head down for our breakfast that is included in the room tariff. The outside sitting area is gorgeous. You are surrounded by beautiful pink and white flowers, green grass and trees. Everything is beautifully maintained by monks throughout the day making sure everything is beautiful and clean. Sitting outside in this magnificent garden I get porridge and chai, same everyday. Warm food and drinks in early cold mornings make me smile. Then we went to check out the town. Where we were staying was all centered around one particular site. The largest buddhist Stupa in Nepal and one of the largest in the world. A stupa is a moundlike structure that are thought of to be places of worship, where even sometimes ashes of a buddha are beneath the stupa. When walking around the Stupa you have to walk with your right arm to the Stupa, so in a clockwise direction. Along the walls of the stupa are prayer wheels, which are meant to be spun while walking around the stupa. You dont have to while you walk around, but I liked to. Around this circle were many restuarants, about 50 hidden monasteries spread out in the mix, MANY shops selling art, trinkets, souvenirs, and clothes. At night time Tibetans would set up tables with prayer candles to keep lit throughout the night and seeing the large stupa at sunset lighting these candles was one of highlights of being so close to the action. Everyone from around the town comes also for this time to make their rounds around the stupa spinning the wheels. Its a quite a beautiful site to join and be apart of.

One of the days we were staying there we were fortunate enough to catch a tibetan dance ceremony going on in the monastery. Upon walking to the monastery we hear it has already begun. Deep drums beat in slow, deep, loud resonance as we inch our way closer and closer to the monastery. We were only allowed to watch from the outside entrance where there was already enough people to fill the whole monastery! In the corridor, monks dressed in intracitly sewn robes, of blue, gold, red and white dance slowly, performing each movement with complete awareness, moved around a complete circle covering the whole inside of the monastery over and over again. In one hand they hold a object I couldnt make out and in the other they hold colorful strips of cloth. At times they would jump and twirl but each and every movement was always with complete unbroken awareness. Young monks below the ages of 10 in maroon robes sit patiently and observe. Inside the monastery it is beautifully decorated with Thangkas (rolled paintings), tibetan cloth decorations dangling from the ceiling, prayer flags, pictures of the Dalai Lama, and my favorite fresh cut flowers on altars of the 3 GIANT gold buddha statues in the back. They had to be atleast 30 feet tall. What a sight to see!

One day we headed to a nearby famous temple called the Pashupatinath Temple. This temple was built around 7th century and is standing strong and still massively beautiful. This temple is closed to non-hindus but foreigners are allowed to take pictures of the entrance gate and watch the cremations on the ghats (steps). This is the only temple in Nepal that has open cremations for people to watch if they choose to, so it is quite a big deal, not to even mention its extreme holiness. We end up walking the few kilometers and came to what we thought was a back way, a secret way in, but it lead around to the front entrance. Upon looking at the front entrance and taking pictures, Ryan gets dooped by "someone who works for the temple" and we go buy a ticket in which I believe was fake and this "worker" proceeded to be our guide, all of which was never asked of him and knew we would have to pay for it. He ended up leaving after he realized that we were ignoring him and his facts about the temple. Ofcourse he asked for money for his time that wasnt asked of him, so I gave him 100 rs and got him out of our face. Hes atleast trying to earn money, not just begging for it. Immediately I call him back and Ryan nudges me and says,
"Dude, what are you doing?"
"Getting my moneys worth"
And how did I! I milked as much information from this guy as I could.
He then takes us across to the river and sets us down across from the cremation sites. There are 7 cremation sites that go in order of caste or importance as to who gets cremated there.
"You are very lucky today. Many dead people. Tourists come to see the cremations and sometimes no body dies, so no cremation!"
The cremation sites are moving in number from the closest to the temple (#1) and move away increasing in number. At site #1, we have the spiritual cremations. Highly advanced and spiritually developed people and priests ONLY get burned there. At site #2 was political, military or rich people who can afford to pay to be cremated there. 3 to 7 move in order of different caste/social/financial differences. Down by the river, next to the temple and ghat #1 is the hospice. A building for the ones essentially waiting to die. Literally. They are extremely ill or old just waiting to die so they can be cremated here and have their ashes put in the holy river. When they feel their departure from this world is approaching, they hustle their way down to the river so that they literally die, while having some body part in contact with the sacred waters.
"I can take you in to see the those people if you want."
"Thank you...But thats okay..."
As we were talking we see that down by the water they are preparing a fresh dead body for cremation. They cremate fresh dead bodies (within 2 or 3 hours of time of death) to keep the stench down, and they believe if they wait to long the Atman (soul) would leave the body and they wouldnt be able to guide it into a proper next life as a result. Ive seen many dead bodies in movies, read about them in books, even seen them in a morgue by a court order, but something about seeing this was more impactful than all combined. The corpse was lying down and covered with an orange cloth as people took off the cadavers last chosen attire, showing as little of the body as possible. When all the clothes were removed they placed the body on a bamboo mat with bamboo sticks supporting the body and two sticks on the sides for what we would call in the west the "paul bearers". Only the immediate family would carry the body to the cremation area. No one else. Big thick wooden blocks are stacked in 3's, criss crossing each other, for a total of 3 layers of wooden blocks. The top layer had a groove for the body to lay. After the family places the body on the wood, everyone stands to the side while the priest and the oldest son walk along the body muttering prayers with fire lit torches in their hands. Here is where they put various objects into the mouth. Gold, sandalwood, and holy water are meant to purify the mouth for the next life; to be honest and not tell lies in the next life. The son then lights the body through the mouth, once again to purify for the next life and instantly, the whole body is consumed and within a matter of seconds the thick white smoke turns a deep yellow. The smell of burnt flesh fills the air. Not to be a bit morbid, but it smelled quite similar to a bbq, but not quite... The son and the priest then keep putting different objects in the fire. Sandalwood, sugar, ghee, holy water, incense, and flowers and the prayers continue. It takes about 4 hours to fully cremate the body and they go on at any time, just whenever someone dies at the hospice or in the river. Some bodies even get flown from India and rarely other countries as well.

The family that was sitting on the side are now a roaring mess and foreigners with huge expensive cameras try capturing their misery in a photo. This disgusts me, I see this all over the place. Westerns get in there personal space, completely devoid of respect, all in the name of a good photo. I wanted to take their camera and break it.
"This is good photo spot, you can take photo here."
"No, no...Thats okay..."
"Its ok, take picture!"
"No...Its..not right..."
I look back at the site and the son is getting all of his hair shaved off on the ghats down to the river, and no matter how many times I asked, I couldnt get a straight answer as to the meaning and why. But after the cremation the son goes to a place in the temple to where he has to stay for 13 days to mourn who died. Here he eats one meal a day (very light) and spends the rest of the time mourning and in communion with God. If there is not an oldest son, goes to the oldest child if it is a deceased parent, and if there are no children it goes to the spouse. These people believe it is extremely holy to be cremated here for it helps their next life placement of rebirth and helps relieve yourself from the cycle of samsara (endless suffering). The ashes on the ground after the cremation are then dumped in the streaming river, which leads to Varanasi, India. The most polluted river probably in the world. In Varanasi there is a cremation site as well. Its crazy, a chemist tested the water in Varanasi and found like over 10 parasites and an extreme amount of bacteria yet, the immense faith and devotion the Hindus have blocks them from disease. Even when they bathe, sometimes drink, and do their morning pujas in the sceptic waters, alot of the time they are not affected due to this immense faith and devotion. Crazy!

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be cremated here. Lepers, pregnant women and young children cannot be. Depending on what family member died, certain year long abstentions are followed. The only 2 I remembered was meat and alcohol. Another interesting fact is that during monsoon season, they have to preserve the body til the season is over because the river turns into a roaring rapid at that time, making it impossible for cremations.

At this time I started getting affected, both physically and mentally. I imagined what it would be like to cremate my loved ones and started to feel emotionally not well. For a brief moment, I placed mself in my minds eye being in the sons position burning my mother or father. The amount of courage and strength this son has is truly inspiring. It was all done with such respect, love, care, and beauty. In our western culture, death is looked upon as something negative and sometimes looked at an event that many people are even in denial about. Some people dont or are not aware of the universal fact that one day, we all will die. This is no way being pessimistic, it is being honest and real with your mortality as a human being and until you confront, understand, and accept this fact, you cannot fully experience the fruits of life. Now the mental unwellness, turned physical. I have been inhaling burning human flesh for the past hour, so our guide took us to see the place where the mourning happens for those 13 days. After we walked back passing by the cremations only a few feet away with its black, yellow, and white smoke gusting our way. My bandana over my mouth wasnt doing any justice and felt my chest caving in with each inhale, even when I held my breath. The last image I saw before going up the stairs to leave was a human foot sticking out the side. I'll never forget that experience and sight, for it actually hit me, both the outrageous stench and the image of real raw death right in my face, that I will die one day, just like this person. We left shortly after.

I spent the rest of the day in an altered state of mind. Confronting your own mortality so full on was an intense experience to say the least. I could still smell the burnt human flesh on my clothes and in my nose the whole rest of the day. Not to sound even more morbid, I really started thinking about death. Not suicide, but my own mortality. If we truly look at how the human body works, we are a walking miracle are we not? However, we are also so extremely fragile. All it takes is for a major artery to pop and you have a stroke. This can happen at any moment, you are utterly helpless to this, and once you come to terms with this universal truth, you begin to really enjoy the fruits of life for you truly realize how precious each second is. Why do you think people who have near death experiences come out the other side completely different?

Leaving Kathmandu was hard. This was a great little buddhist area that I have grown to love. But it was killing my budget. Same with Ryan. I can never keep this imaginary thing called a budget, so maybe I should stop having one?...We took an early morning bus to Pokhara, the other main attraction of Nepal. On the bus I sat next to a beautiful Finnish tattooed girl with matted dreadlocks, a face full metal named Heidi. We immediately hit it off and talked most of the bus ride. About 4 hours into the ride our bus stops on the side of a cliff. In fact, I see almost a hundred (no joke) buses stopped. It was the protest. A few kilometers away, protesters set up rocks and parked cars blocking the main intersection. Their intention was to have people leave their bus, and go across to the other side and catch an empty one for bus drivers to earn more money. We stayed put. I spent the time talking to the Finnish knockout which helped distract me enough to where I wasnt getting furious at why I was put in this situation. We were told many things. We might have to sleep overnight in our bus for more than one night, or that it will be open tonight 10 hours away, or even this afternoon it will be open. We didnt know what to believe, but like I said, we stayed put. After many promises of time deadlines to get out of this crunch, we ended up starting to inch our way to freedom. Our bus driver was on top of things. He had no intention of turning around to possibly get more money, he wanted to get through this with all of his passengers he originally had on the bus. Heidi asks me if I have any pot or drugs to help her sleep, I obviously didnt so she found some from someone else and passed out. We were talking about possibly traveling together because we wanted to see the same things in pretty much the same order but I couldnt help the fact that after this incident, I completely lost interest. My sobriety is numero uno in my life and cannot be around people that jeopardize it, I cant. 7 hours late, we finally get to our destination. Getting ready to get off the bus she wanted to know my plan. I told her I was going to take a buddhist course and that I didnt have a plan. Which was the truth, but I held back that I really wanted to be with her but knew it wouldnt be good for me. So I told her its been a pleasure and left with my head held low. How I miss the warmth of a woman...

Immediately upon pulling into the bus station, hotel sharks see the fresh fish and start planning their attack. With these suffocating parasites, I tend to be such a wise guy with them telling them "I sleep at the station" or "I dont need a room because I dont sleep" and the last one was "I want a room with a fountain". Everyone shut up except for one guy saying
"I have, I have SIR!"
"Oh yeah? In the room?!"
"Yes, ofcourse SIR! Come, free taxi"
"AHAHA, I like you, how much for your rooms?"
"Come and see, free taxi"
The rooms were dirt cheap with a beautiful view of the massive lake in Pokhara. There was no fountain in the room, but his sense of humor and good spirit lead us to a warm family owned guest house and made it worth it, despite the lack of my imaginary fountain.

The next day we went to check out a beginners buddhist course that we were recommended from the place we stayed in Kathmandu. It was a bit pricey for the broken down "simple accommodation" so I asked If I could talk to the teacher and get alittle rundown on the course. A short older man in his early sixities come up and talks to Ryan and I giving us alittle breakdown of the course. His name is Yeshe and he knows his what he was talking about and presented it crystal clear, selling me on the course. Plus, no communication barrier because for he is from the states so I can ask a million questions I have burning inside. I have to admit, initially I was hesitant about taking the course for beginners, but its beneficial to go back to basics from time to time. A famous saying in Zen buddhism is to keep a beginners mind because a beginner to something is never arrogant thinking he knows it all missing the full essence of the lesson. A beginner is hungry and absorbent of the information, his mind is a clean slate eagerly waiting to be filled. The course was with only 4 other people, the week before there was 12, so I felt blessed for the teacher could concentrate on each indivdual more. The schedule was pretty much discussions and meditations starting from 6am to 8pm with breaks for food. I volunteered to be the offical bell ringer to make sure everyone is on time to meditation and discussion. I highly enjoyed this. The gompa (meditation room) was on the top floor, overlooking Pokara. Great views for the days that were somewhat clear. Our first night at the course was full of roaring thunder and flashing bursts of lighting in the sky which also flashed brightly in our dim candle lit room giving an great errie feel. I love, love, love the rain and the more violent the storm the bigger my smile. I slept well that night listening to sound of rain. Each night however I played the guessing game, wondering what kind of critter that is crawling on me...Ive never had so many uninvited guests in my bed before...The next day you could see mountains you didnt even knew existed because of all the dust blocking your view of them was now gone thanks to the storm. What a view Pokhara has, WOW! Some of the highest mountain ranges and peaks in the world were in perfect view around the course grounds.

So the discussions were basically indepth explanations about the basics and fundamental principles of buddhism. The teacher was a very smart man who explained everything in great and complete detail. He also added his own spice of humor which is always a plus. Ive heard and read these principles many many times and never had it explained so well and so clear. Sometimes he would explain too much where we would have to bring him back to what he was talking about. One of the things I loved the most was that he challenged us to think for ourselves. Completely different than teachers in school who wanted you to regurgitate info. He placed alot of importance on not just accepting information because someone says it to be true, find out for yourself and only then accept it to be true. Exactly like a scientist mixing two chemicals. Someone could tell him that mixing A and B will give him C, but until he sees this for himself, that A and B togehter does infact make C, he accepts it to be true at that moment. Yeshe gave us a few questions to think about each night which was probably my favorite part of the course. I love thinking on philosophical questions very scrupulously for hours on end, even when I think Ill pull my hair out from what feels like running around and around in circles. Ive also desired this exact situation of being able to get into discussions with a buddhist teacher for years, so I took the discourses and questions very sincerely. I stayed long in the gompa after everyone went to bed contemplating these questions by a dim candlelight. You couldve heard a mouse fart from 3 miles away in that room with no one in there at midnight, amazing. When I reported my answers to him the following day, just like a good teacher made me look at things from a perspective wasnt even close to heading towards. He saw how much of a genuine interest I took in the course and was willing to spend the extra time answering my millions of questions.

Our meditation teacher was a distracton for the guys in the class..A tall, slim nun from England with pale skin covered with freckles, and long jet black hair that made my heart melt was who was supposed to be guiding me into concentration, not distracting me from concentration! :) Apart from being drop dead gorgeous, she had the most sensual and sexiest voices Ive ever heard. Perfect for a meditation teacher, and my future wife. :) At the end of the course we were asked if we would change anything about the course and I put "more meditation". Not because of the english bombshell, but because of what I got out of each one.

During one of our last discussions Yeshe looks at me and says,
"Cody you have a caterpillar crawling on your left ear"
Someone from the class gets up and picks it off my neck and puts it outside. Yep it certainly was a caterpillar one inch long, black with spots of orange and quite beautiful...but dangerous...
30 minutes later, I felt something else crawling on my neck again so I swat down yet another caterpillar. (I know for a fact this came from my bed because all night I felt different "things" crawling on me...)
I start laughing and Yeshs goes,
"another one?!"
"....Yes (laughing)"
I try picking it up to take it outside and he says
"Be careful, some people break out in a rash from those things.."
And guess what?... Ofcourse I did. Ryans daily struggle travelling abroad is allergies and stomach issues, mine is insects and itchy rashes, not to even mention my body falling apart. My toe nail fell off on my left foot and im positive I fractured a bone in my right foot for minor pain still lingers long after the cut is healed..It doesnt hurt to walk, but pressure hurts and there is a large bump on my foot now. The bright side about my toe is that atleast it will get rid of my painful in grown toenail Ive had my whole life. So I got a nasty rash on my neck that spread down to my stomach right above a very...sensitive region..of red and purple WELTS and instantly I am brought back to the feeling in Kerala...I want to rip my skin off again...I bought a bunch of stuff to help it at a local pharmacy but I think it irritated the situation...That night I watched the sun rise once again...

The last day was sad to come, naturally but I still wasnt empty of questions so I asked Yeshe a few more. I kept asking him where I can get more deeply involved and he really didnt tell me anything I didnt already know or am not already doing or have done. Ive started to plan my last month in India doing my own personal silent retreat which he thought very highly of and thought to be very beneficial giving me hints and advice to ensure I get the most benefiet out of it. After finishing the rest of my questions, I got up, sincerely thanked him for his efforts and wisdom and shook his hand. While shaking my hand, he looked me in the eye and said with utmost compassion,
"I hope to see you again Cody"
"Yeah me too. Thank you Yeshe."
I left shortly after.

Ryan and I wanted to goto the birthplace of the Buddha, a town called Lumbini after the course, but my rash was so unbearable and his stomach was messed up so we decided to get to India where we can take it easy for a few days and are not cruntched on a visa deadline.

So to conclude, listening and following my heart is something that keeps growing in me with each and every day. I cannot express my undying gratitude to God for cultivating this insight within me for I try to not even waste a second of my days, not being connected with this insight because it never leads me astray. I want to leave you all with something to ponder on and play with. This is one of my favorite meditations to do and we actually did this exact meditation at the course. I strongly encourage you all to take 5 minutes out of your busy lives to just try this. Please do it for me.

First off get comfortable, this wont work as it should if you are uncomfortable. Once you are in a seated position, concentrate on your natural breathing. In and out, in and out, time and time again, just be natural dont force the breath to be certain way just as it is, be aware of it. Dont make this too complicated than it should be, just breathe, naturally and fully aware of each breath. Each time you get distracted by a thought, a noise, a smell, or whatever, just notice that you got distracted and go back to watching the natural process of the breath arising and passing away. After a few minutes now focus your awareness to imagine in your minds eye, someone you want to be happy or love, either a friend or family member. Notice the feelings that arise just from the sight or thought of this person. Dont judge any emotion that comes up, just be aware of what arises. Then after a few minutes, ask yourself, why is this person my friend? Why do I like this person? Look at your answer, you might surprise yourself, but once again dont judge yourself for your answer, just be aware of your response. Next, think of an enemy, or someone you dont like or get along with. Notice the feelings that naturally arise from the thought of this person and after a few minutes, honestly look at why you do not like this person. Dont judge your feelings or answer, just be aware of what arose. Next, try to imagine a complete stranger. Someone you dont even know and look at what comes up, if anything. For most people nothing arises. This person is completely neutral and look at why you feel this way. The closing part of the meditation is to generate the motivation to spread unconditional love and compassion to EVERYONE and to stop dividing people into these groups depending on what they do, or dont do for us. Imagine what the world would be like, if everyone was able to have unconditional compassion and love for everyone, friends, enemies and strangers. What a wonderful world we would live in.

Thank you if you took the time out of your day to try that little exercise.

I love you all.
Be Happy!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dharamsala: Seeing The Dalai Lama

The train ride up to Delhi from Kerala was 49 hours, straight and really wasnt as devistating as it may sound. I feel a great contributor to this was that I had Ryan, a friend with me to keep me company on the ride. What also added to the expierience, both good and bad, was next to us on the train was a family of, a mother, her 4 year old daughter, her 6 year old boy, her two brothers, and her mother. The children made the ride a real test of patience. The 6 year old boy turned the train berths into a elementary jungle gym. When he wasnt monkeying around over EVERYONE's berths, he would torment his sister doing whatever he could to make her cry, no matter what time of the day or night. This little girl never seemed to stop crying and was the biggest test of my patience. And what crying it was!! It was the kind of blood currtling balling your eyes out you would think it was produced from a megaphone two inches from your ears it was so loud. Out of the two mornings I spent on the train, the whole train was woken up by her wailing at a staggering 4:30 in the morning and it would continue all throughout the day and into the night, stopping for short unexpected intervals. Ive never appreciated silence as much as those few and precious moments. Both the mother and grandmother looked warn out, the look on their face was a expression of defeat, for it seemed they have given up on their childrens crazy antics. It seemed like the kids has drained them of all their vitality, but that didnt stop them from making small talk with Ryan and I, and whenever they looked at us would shower us with their smiles.

The whole ride did not turn out to be so unpleasant. When I was in Kerala, about a week before we left I bought a giant papaya, that needed a few days to rippen, hoping to eat it long before the train ride. When it came time to leave it still wasnt ripe and I didnt want to leave it, I really really wanted this papaya, so I carried this giant fruit craddling it wherever I went hoping it would rippen faster in the fresh sunlight. It was starting to get ripe on the second day of the train ride and the grandmother looks at me and motions at my papaya with a cutting motion of her hands.
"She wants your papaya" says the mother
"So do I...Ive been caring for this papaya for almost 10 days and it still isnt ripe"
"Yes, good to eat now, she wants to cut it for you...And ofcourse she wants to have some herself"
Grandma nodds, smiles and puts out her hand for the papaya
Knowing that the papaya wasnt ripe enough yet, I grab the papaya and hand it over...It wasnt completely ripe, parts were still quite hard but their family mingled with Ryan and I as we all shared this fruit, and for the briefest of moments, I felt like a part of their family sitting on the train, getting fed and conversing with this indian family. I love the compassionate hospitality indians give me expecting nothing in return. Straight from the heart.

So arriving in Delhi once again...Eh...Delhi...Ryan and I wanted to rest for a day or two at most before heading up to Dharamsala. We were in no rush either because we thought we had to register to see the Dalai Lama speak, but when I called to confirm if this was true, they said it was not, because it was only a few hour speech sp there is no need to register. So we had more than a few days in Delhi, if we wanted.

We saw that there was a peace conference at a hotel in Delhi for a few days while we were in Delhi so we went to get more info on it. The Dalai Lama was advertised to be speaking at it along with many other extremely powerful and intelligent figures. We walk up to a 5 * hotel with valet parking, and more attendants waiting at the entrance to serve us than I could count. After the massive security check we go inside and try to find the registration booth. Its up stairs and with each step I am blown away at how nice this hotel is...I thought to myself,
"This is going to be exspensive"
We find the registration desk and after seeing only people in suits, the person at the desk looks up, gives us a up and down glance and continues to her paperwork...
"Where do we goto register for the event?"
".......(after a long pause) Here"
"Ok how much is it?"
"75 thousand...Rupees"
"Oh...Ok thank you."
After we figure out just how much that event cost we start laughing at what she must have been thinking. That event cost about $1500. We both walk in with dirty clothes looking like we just got hit by a bus and ask to register for a $1500 event...No wonder once she saw us she didnt give us any attention. This was quite the comical expierience but I think you had to be there to get the full picture.

The other few days we were in Delhi we just took it easy, which is a difficult thing to do in Delhi but very needed. I ended up meeting with my friend I met from Rishikesh, Martyn for his last day in India and continued the good times with good food for after he had to catch his flight back to Holland. Ryan and I ended up seeing another bollywood movie, it was supposed to be a comedy but it left us feeling shorthanded. Indians have what foreigners would call a weird sense of humor. Some of it strikes me as funny, but the majority is really immature and not. Still quite a treat to watch a bollywood movie in Hindi, in a theatre more comfortable than what you are used to, and with a big bowl of popcorn infront of you.

Some things in Delhi were not as planned. Im walking through the crazy bazaar of Pahar Ganj and I see a hand extended out infront me, I look up and it is Mr. Jung Singh.
"Hello, I remember you"
I start laughing,
"I remember you too, even though I am--"
"Alittle insane...Yes..Please come talk with me and have a chai, just talk, please come"
I look into his eyes and there is not a trace of ill will in this mans eyes, just love so I agree.
I turn to Ryan,
"Dude I have to do this, remember the story with the guy who told me I was insane?"
"Yeah, this is him?!
"Yeah, I have to see him, something tells me to, plus I have nothing else to do, I could really go for a cup of chai right now"
I then walked with the plump bearded Jung Singh through shady alleys where no tourists were in the streets or "shops", people gave long hard cold stares, the smell of excrement was so strong I almost fell over, and I didnt know if these would be my last breaths but there is something about this guy, this Jung Singh, I knew I wasnt in any harm.
We get to the chai shop, sit down and he pulls out some cards, muttering some prayers, looks at my hands and begins to unfold my prohecy...He proceeded to tell me a few facts about my life about certain people in my life, how long ill live, what my traits are, what is blocking me from fully expieriencing life, and how I am insane. But before all of this he writes down something on a piece of paper and gives it to me and tells me to "hold on to this".
He then writes down 4 numbers and tells me to point to one, and the one I pointed to was the number written on the piece of paper. He did several things like this, claiming he can read my mind. Convincing..
He wanted to tell me more, about how to stop my insanity and fully expierience the divine, but for a price. I put down all the money in my wallet ($3) and he proceeds to tell me about how attached I am to money.
"Money you use to only eat and then you shit out. Come on, put down big money."
"Im not putting any more money down than this. This is big money."
He proceeded to tell me that he uses this money to feed orphans, trying to pull on my heartstrings but it wasnt working.
After 10 minutes I said
"Im not going to put any more money down, so lets just finish our tea and I must be going."
He told me some crazy things and I made a vow that if I see him when I leave India I will put down big money to hear what he REALLY has to say. His presence stayed with me for the rest of the day. His eyes were so inviting and warm, he is a very goodhearted and wise man, I have no doubt about that in my heart. Hah! What a trip...

Walking through the crazy uneven, dirty street of the main bazaar I kept slipping and messing up my cut on my foot even worse. Fighting off an infection in India with an open wound is quite the hassle. Everything is so dirty and just the open air alone, especially in Delhi is like an airborne anthrax its so polluted. My healing process alone seems to be slowing down in India, I dont know what it is, but cuts/bruises etc. take twice as long to heal for some reason.

On our last night (or what we wanted to be), we tried to get a late night local bus and this was quite the expierience at the bus station. First off we took Delhis metro to the station (which totally didnt feel like India, being in a nice metro station? In India? No way) This bus station was nothing like all the many other bus stations I have encountered in India. This was complete madness. You had to buy a ticket from one of the booths lining the sides of the station and some are so crowded with people I wonder how anything ever gets accomplished...In America, there are lines. In India, there is pushing to get to the front, most people dont believe in lines. Ryan ad I wait til the tickets go on sale for our bus and a Buddhist monk sits down next to me and starts talking to me. His tibetan accent is so thick I keep having to ask him to repeat everything atleast 4 times. At one point, he pulled out a book in English and wanted me to help him with his English. Oh, this was a great expierience, teaching english to a tibetan monk.

When it came ticket time I sharpened my elbows and headed for the crowd, doing whatever I can to squeeze, shove, and push through hundreds of Indians packed in a space that is meant to hold 10 people. I finally get to the front to hear that they are sold out of tickets for the bus we need. We waited and fought for 4 hours until the early hours of the morning, even went clear across town for a sold out bus. You gotta roll with it, I tell myself...However, I will never forget how chaotic of an expierience that was, oh my goodness...We try to go back to our hotel but have to deal with shady rickshaw drivers who wont take us where we want to go..After running completely out of patience and much arguing we get taken back to our hotel and crash out, fast. Oh Delhi...How it sucks the life out of you...

The bus ride to Dharamsala was a typical ride. No sleep, and our seat numbers were completely ignored as we were placed in the bench row once again..The ONLY seats in the bus that do not recline...I didnt sleep at all during those 14 hours. So uncomfortable and squished.
Ryan, whos never ridden a bus yet in India looks at me and says,
"Yeah your right...I will never forget this bus expierience.."
"Yeah? Wait til we get airborne..."

When we arrive in Dharamsala, there is alot going on. Apparently that morning The Dalai Lama made a speech for this day marked a very important day in Tibetan history. This marked 50 years of Tibet's injustice from the tyrannical China. So we goto the temple to get more info about the speech tomarrow and yeah turns out we just missed one of his speeches.This speech wasnt listed on his website and I was quite pissed that I missed him...People crowded the small and narrow streets outside the temple, all in hopes to get a glimpse of the Dalai Lama rolling away in his car. I knew I would see him the next day, but still, any opportunity to see this man, I would take even if it would kill me to get there. If there is one person in the world I respect and admire the most, it is by far the Dalai Lama.

There was a peace protest shortly after. I went and bought the biggest Tibet flag I could find and Ryan and I waited around for the protest to start. Male and female monks in their maroon robes, tibetans of all ages carrying banners with different sayings on them, cars with loudspeakers all await to start. Some banners said
"China STOLE my land, my voice, my freedom"
"There is no freedom of speech in Tibet"
"Stop the killing in Tibet"
And all of a sudden it seemed like it came out of no where for people started roaring and walking. There were a few things that were shouted or on the loudspeaker then followed with a shouted response from the crowd:
Stop the killing - In tibet
Stop the tourturing - In tibet
What do we want - Free Dom
When do we want it? - NOW
Shame on China, Shame on China!
Tibet belongs to? - Tibetans!
Long live - Dalai Lama
Release Release - Penchen Lama
What do we want? We want freedom!
This was the best part. Waving my Tibetan flag, surrounded with monks screaming for peace in their country and for their people. The kinship that was felt with these people was beyond words. They were so grateful for any foreigner that was there, and there was quite alot, especially from America. Out of all the days in Dharamsala this was the hottest. The sun only came out for the protest scorching the marchers and went away behind the clouds when it was over. We marched probably 10 kilometers, atleast. We covered all of Dharamsala starting from McLeod Ganj in the north all the way down the dirt and uneven roads to southern Dharamsala. Indians came out of their shops, stopped their cars, and came from far distances to see the protest. At the end of the protest I was done for. I cannot tell you how many times people stepped on my hurt foot and how many times I slipped stretching the skin ripping my cut even further...Not to mention the amount of dirt that probably got in it as well. We reach the bottom of Dharamsala and there is a speech from an important figure in Tibet I am presuming. I dont know who exactly but by the way he is dressed and admired I could tell he meant business. Once the speech was over, Ryan and I took a taxi back, and I hibernated in the room the rest of the day, for the next day was a day I have been looking forward to and more excited about than any day to date. I was to see the Dalai Lama in the person!

Waking up at 5:30 in the morning to get to the temple @ 6:00 was a small price to pay for being able to see the Dalai Lama speak in his hometown in India. I stretch, yawn and make a screech hearing the sound of the alarm clock. I loungue in bed, warm and comfortable, and wait for Ryan to finish getting ready. When it is time, I roll out of bed, blanket still wrapped around me, I hobble into the chilling dim cold morning air surrounded with views of the snow capped mountains around the hotel and ultimitely the whole city. Ahh Dharamsala has great energy here, I could easily live here its so peaceful. My foot is still so messed up from the giant protest the day before. I tell Ryan to go ahead and that I'll catch up. Ive been using the stick from the flag I bought as a cane. This helps tremendously, I call it my old man cane because thats exactly what I look like using this thing hobbling around and whatnot...The speech was at The Dalai Lama temple (go figure) and we get a seat around 6am. It is so cold I cannot feel my toes and fingers and am constantly shivering. We find a seat around the 3rd row and there we sat for 2 hours, waiting and shivering. I sit next to a dreadlocked backpacker from Brazil, who kept giving me food even when I would deny it, he insisted. Aside from giving me food, all we talked about to each other was The Dalai Lama. He kept saying with the biggest smile he could make,
"He is such a good man...The Dalai Lama, good man.."
Infront of us was the seating for the monks, so I was probably only 100 feet away from The Dalai Lama and had a perfect view of where he would be sitting. Stoked. He had a elevated seat wrapped in a gold cloth, fresh flowers around him, surrounded with Tibetan Thankas (Thankas mean rolled painting and are typically of different gods) and banners everywhere with different buddhist symbols or displaying the 50 years of injustice Tibet has suffered.
Over time people keep pouring into whatever space they could fit and make into a seat. Monks started to flood the place in their maroon robes and everyone sits patiently awaiting his arrival. People start to murmur and point at the stairs as a few maroon figuers creep down the stairs. Deep bellowing tibetan monks start chanting over the loudspeakers and The Dalai Lama begins to make his appearance. At first a few monks are only revealed, then some heavily decorated monks proceed after with huge yellow mowhawk hats and loud flutes follow. After them, the man of the hour is revealed being helped down the stairs by a few more monks. I have waited many years for this exact moment. There isnt anyone I respect and admire more than The Dalai Lama. His uncondtional wisdom and compassion for the world will always continue to grow in my heart and inspire me. He has been the main influence for the positive changes in my life and will continue to be my main source of inspiration. The man I admire most in the world has now reached the bottom of the stairs and I have a clear view of his one of a kind smile greeting people at the bottom of the stairs. When I saw that smile strike his face, the happiest tears Ive ever shed came rolling down my face. The brazilian next to me starts muttering somthing in his language but I could tell what he was saying was exactly what my heart was feeling for we both had tears in our eyes with our hands at our heart. When I saw him, I put my hands over my face in disbelief, rubbed my eyes, and yes I was not dreaming. My hands now are trembling and a joy that I cannot express with words took over my enire being. The trembling turned into my whole body and all I could keep saying was
"I cant believe this...I cant believe this..."
He gets to his chair, gets helped up and he immediately puts his hands together over his head and immediately everyone puts their own folded hands on top of their head, then at their heart, then at their navel, bow down, put their head on the ground three times. 5 monks were kneeling infront of him and they accompanied The Dalai Lama chanting in deep tibetan chants. After the audience was in awe. You could hear a mouse fart until The Dalai Lama spoke. At this point all the foreigners put on their headseats to tune into a live broadcast of the speech that is translated from Tibetan into English. Even though The Dalai Lama has quite an exstensive knowledge of English he gives his speeches in Tibetan while in Dharamsala. The speech was mainly an introduction to Budddhism and how it differs from other beliefs, according to Ryan. His mp3 player could pick up radio stations while I was perfectly content with just listening and watching. I was completely mezmerized that I was in India, 3rd row (in foreigners section) wittnessing The Dalai Lama give his speech.
After a few hours when the speech is over a few monks that squeezed into a few inches infront of me goes to get up, and places her hand right on my hurt foot using that as acrutch to help her up. I scream out in agony which doesnt stop her until she is fully up and doesnt even look back to see what was making those sounds right next to her...
Ryan asks,
"Dude you ok?"
"No Im not..If it wasnt anyone other than a buddhist monk...This foot is never going to heal man..."
The flute players lead the path as The Dalai Lama gets bombarded with cameras and people who just want to shake his hand. He eventualy works his way, 4 feet away from me and he starts talking to one of the little tibetan children infront of me. Ater a few seconds he lets out a hearty laugh and giant smile right before me, that instantly brought me to tears. He overflows with true happiness and just with the sight of his genuine smile, you will be smiling for weeks. He truly is what the Tibetans believe, a reincarnation of the God of Compassion. The further he kpet walking away, the more and more people were brought to tears until the whole crowd was speechless and crying, but not a signle person was sad.

The rest of the days in Dharamsala, I just kept what I did minimal. I spent alot of time talking to the nice shop/restauratnt owners that I met when I was there in November and taking it as easy as possible to maybe give my foot a chance to heal, hobbling around on my old man cane. Aside from reading and eating, we at one point ended up seeing a movie at one of the "theatres" there. Which was just a small room with chairs and a projection screen. Whatever it was 2 bucks and better than the theatres back home, for the reason that other than 3 other people, we had the whole place to ourselves. IT doesnt matter how small and shady it was :)

Im back in Delhi right now but am leaving tonight for Nepal. I will be there probably tomarrow night if all goes as to plan. I am extremely grateful to be able to fit seeing Nepal in this trip, and will be just as excited to tell you all about each second of it. I dont know how my internet situation will be there, so dont be alarmed if I do not post a blog for a few weeks to a month.

To conclude, I will give you all a quote from the Dalai Lama to reflect on.
"There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness. We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection."

I love you all.
Be happy!!