Thursday, December 25, 2008

Rishikesh: Getting Bent in Ashrams

So to catch up...Upon arriving to Rishikesh from Haridwar, I passed by alot of interesting people walking up to the ashram. The poverty here is just like everywhere else (bad). However, I saw one man in particular that I will never forget. He was sitting in a pile of black garbage, that appeared as if a bomb went off around him and everything (including him) was burnt and covered in black sulfur. His posture was relaxed while in the midst of all the garbage surrounding him. As I passed by, he was sifting through this garbage in a way someone would look through their pile of mail for the day. He was totally composed, content, and happy but heres the part that got me...His front bottom teeth were hanging out of his mouth all in tact together but dangling out of his mouth. Perhaps maybe thats what he was looking for in his tarnished possesssions?

So the whole ashram thing...The reason why I came to Rishikesh and ultimately India; Getting Bent in Ashrams.

The center is huge and was very nice, for India that is. My room is up a long steep hill with lots of gardens/foliage to entertain my eyes on the way. Its like a 10 minute walk into the main town and the scenary is very beautiful. The buildings are newly painted and everything is quite clean. The weather each day is a hit or miss. Most of the days it is cloudy and chilly then every once in awhile the sun decides to come out and it gets quite warm. The nights are freezing in my room. But that could be a result of being sick (because I was quite often here) or just not having enough to get warm with.

The minimum stay there is 15 days and the day starts at 5:30 for morning meditation and throughout the day we have 2 meditation classes and 2 yoga classes. The classes are an hour each, the rest of the time you can spend it as you want, in the ashram or out. We got 3 meals a day plus chai once a day. When I first arrived I thought the food was absolutely horrible. Utterly horrible. (Its funny, just when I think Ive had the worst food in India, it gets worse) I got sick the second day and there are contantly bugs, hair and rocks in the food. However, either I adjusted to the food or its got more tastier as time went on because it didnt make me gag the longer I stayed there eating it. To be quite honest, I didnt even bother with the bugs, rocks or hair towards the end. Its best to just eat it and try not to notice.

The meditation classes are good and the yoga for the most part is pretty intense. There are 4 teachers at the ashram (all men how rad is that?) which all rotate every few days. 2 teachers are really good, the other 2 not so much. Their instructions are a bit vague and they just bend you into really intense poses to push you, but I think they push alittle too hard, I am suprised no one has been injured because they push you beyond your bodies limitations...I dont know how I feel about that, but they are the teachers so I do as I am instructed, while following what my body says, but at the same time pushing myself. This is the main reason I came to India for this intensity but not to hurt myself in the process. Ive gained back so much flexibility that I have lost from not having a steady practice for several months which feels wonderful. When I first arrived I could sadly not even bend over and touch the ground anymore, now my palms reach the floor again. Ahhh feel so good.

The ashram was quite a social gathering. Lots of foreigners so free time was spent with the people you met.

Dhiren was my neighbor to my left. He is indian, from delhi, aspires to be a movie director and actually directed a music video with a crew of about 150 people before coming to the ashram. Very kind man, when I was sick the second day, after he overheard that I puked in my bed (while sleeping I had no idea until like 5 hours later) he gave me his sheet and helped me put my dirty sheet out to air clean. He spoke very good english and we talked alot about different hollywood movies. When I was sick he offered for me to use his computer to watch movies,
"Would you like to use my computer and watch a movie? That always helps me when I am sick."
"Yeah that would be so nice! What movies do you have?"
"Scent of a woman...Hotel Rwanda...Shawshank Redemption..."
"Yes, have you seen it? Its a damn good film."
"Yes I have many times, no need to look any further Shawshank it is!"
So there in my room I sat watching Shawshank Redemption and for the briefest of moments I totally forgot about my sickness, how cold I was and actually that I was in India. I was totally absorbed into this movie that I havent seen in years and was so grateful to be watching it, in India. That movie is so inspiring and uplifting, Im sure that is what cured me for the next day I felt alot better almost 100%

My other neighbor is a man named Rory. He is from Australia about 23 years old but has the mentality of a 16 year old (most of the time) and constantly reminds me of Chandler from friends. This is in no way a bad thing. Hes hilarious and we get along quite well. I spent most of my free time with him.
One day he asked me,
"so when you think of me what do you think of?"
a long pause, I close my eyes
"when I think of you, I see you walking in a park with your hands in your pockets, head up to the sky, whistling the muppet babies theme song."

A few days after I arrived an older australian lady named Bernice came to the ashram. She talks with a thick Austalian accent and looks like a hippie from the 60's. She wears purple circluar sunglasses just like you would imagine a hippe would wear.
She was talkign to me about her last road trip in her van and I said,
"I could totally see you living out of a van all hippie free spirited and stuff"
"Yeah thats what I did for many years with my ex husband!"
It all makes sense now :) We immediately got along quite well. We started talking at lunch one day and then planned on coffee right after lunch. We talked alot, I talked to her than anyone at the ashram. She works as a probation officer in Australia and also does some side work with drug and alcohol treatment. I could immediately relate (given my past) and hers was quite similar. Aside from that, we played chess alot (she beat me twice!), talked about each others favorite books and even ended up swaping a few books between us. She gave me a book and on the inside page it had the person who bought the book, who he gave the book to, and in chronologiacl order it showed how it ended up in my hands. Intitally upon recieving the book I thought, "awesome! another book to mail home!" But after seeing that interesting way to share books, I thought I must live out this legacy, and actually started one of my own :)

The last person I want to talk about is a 24 year old guy from Holand named Martyn. Our personalities matched very well. We connected with music. He plays bass and like me, he could listen to anything from Metal to Soothing New Age to Jazz to 80's dance hits. He took Dhirens old room so we were constantly were showing each other different music.
"dude you have to check these people out...listen to this bridge right here and how it breaks down afterwards!"
"niiiiiiiice, thats like these people, listen to this!"
This went on for quite some time...
It was funny whenever I would see him regardless if we were in the yoga hall or outside drinking chai, I would always say long and drawn out,
"what up gangstaaaaaaaa"
making guns with his hands up in the air he would say,
"Yo yo homie!"

One of the days Daniel from the Vipassana course in Jaipur ending up calling me and we met up with some people from the Ashram to go rent some scooters and mob them around town. So there we were, 5 foreigners blazing through the streets of Rishikesh blaring our horns! Oh man what an expierience. By the loving grace of God I made it alive and in one piece, I had my doubts at first, ahah im not gonna lie. I didnt think riding a scooter would be so difficult, and it wouldnt have been, if I wasnt in india that is...We rode away from streets and got up to the mountains with the glorious himalayas around us and the ganges river below us, this was such a wonderful expierience. It was quite a challenge not to get distracted by the amazing beauty infront of me while operating my scooter. It was such a blessing the past few days before this have been quite cloudy and cold but that day the sun came out and it was such a beautiful day. After riding in the mountains we went to a waterfall where we had to hike up a few miles to get there but as soon as we did, we all stripped down to our underwear and jumped in the ICE COLD water, started splashing each other, throwing each other around and for those few minutes I connected and embraced my inner child and had a blast of a time.

My Christmas at the ashram was an awesome expierience. Christmas Eve after meditation class I walk out of the hall and see there are strands of lights on a bush nearby. I said outloud to myself,
"Christmas lights?!?!? Thats so rad!!!"
There couldnt have been more then 3 strands in total, and thats when it hit me. I sat down infront of that bush and realized Christmas for example, is not about how many lights you have to decorate, its about the lights in your heart that make Christmas beautiful. I sat by that bush until dinner, just totally stoked that there were Christmas lights, I was so thankful, I never thought there would be Christmas lights in the ashram. These three strands of lights had more beauty in them than all the lights combined on my street during Christmas. After dinner I just went to my room to finish off my Christmas Bible readings. Christmas day was like any other day at the ashram but after the evening yoga class I scheduled massages for me and a few other people. The massage cost $8 and lets just say Im glad it was not any more...Its like they pulled people off the street, gave them a 2 minute briefing before the massage and presto! You have a massuse. Keep in mind, you cannot expect much in India, youll be disappointed if you do ahah. Nonetheless it was very needed from the stress ive been piling on my body the past 10 days. When we got back to the ashram we ate and there was annoucement that there would be a dance party and bonfire for Christmas. There was a firepit with a roaring fire and a indian imitation christmas tree with lights and balloons as ornaments. It was the most pathetic imitation of a Christmas tree but to me it was like it was made of solid gold. Before we all started dancing a few of us at the Ashram made alittle secret santa deal going on. I potentially ruined the game because when we drew names, I leaked out who I had and Rory overheard and as a result they felt they were able to figure out who had who. But Rory saved it. He told me who he picked and what he was going to buy him.
"Yeah Im gonna buy him an axe, you know just alittle pick axe" I didnt think anything of it because come on, its Rory...So when it was time to exchange gifts I gave it to my secret santa and Rory hands a gift to me, I was so dumbfounded and he says,"Merry Christmas buddy!!" He had me fooled, completely. He kept the spirit of Secret Santa alive.
"I bought you an Osho book because I saw you reading one earlir, some chocoalate cake because you need to gain weight, and some incense because your room smells like SHIT DUDE!"
I was speechless, in that ashram the spirit of Christmas was so strong, I cant put it into words the feelings I was expieriencing. I was so thankful to be where I was and to be with the people I was with. They totally helped fill the gap of emptiness I felt being away from my family on Christmas. I gave my favorite book, "The Art of Happiness" by Tenzin Gyatso to the person I drew. That book has helped me in more ways than I can count, so naturally it was the first thing I thought of to give. I hope it helps her just like it has helped me. So after the gift exchange we walk back to the party and all the workers and teachers of the ashram were all dancing. Shortly after everyone in the ashram was shakin their toosh. The men highly outweighed the women in number and for the first time I saw a 5 to 1 ratio of men dancing than women. Indian men love to dance! It felt great to connect with that dancing fool in me because even if you have no rythm it doesnt matter to them, so long as you are trying.

New Years was nice as well. After the evening Yoga class we all decided to goto a restaurant in town called "The Little Buddha". It was notorious around town for its chill atmosphere, good food, and that you can smoke pot there. Initially I was a bit torn on going or not..I didnt want to spend my New Years surrounded with pot smoke. I told myself,
"I have to get used to these situations. I cannot let them stop me from interacting with people. Just as I want to be respected for my decisons and lifestyle, I must respect theirs. Be happy with whatever situation life puts you in Cody."
So off we went. The place was bumping reggae the whole night, had shrek on the T.V. infront of us and had almost any dish you might want on their menu for a decent price. Being a meal outside the disgusting ashram food, I indulged. I had 2 plates of pasta, a block of chocolate, hot milk, and for dessert "hello to the queen". Ive seen this dessert everywhere in India, and never knew what it was. Its always the most exspensive dessert on the menus, so I decided to go for it. Oh man. Im glad I was introduced to her! It was a HUGE sunndae with delicious ice cream. The ice cream actually tasted like real ice cream!! ahah. It had cherries, dried fruits, chocolate syrup, bananas, and chocolate cookie crumbs at the bottom. Oh it was so delightful to be full off something other than rice, dal and peanut butter sandwhiches. After we walked back to the ashram where it was exactly like the Christmas party just no Christmas tree. Once it hit 12 we all went around wishing eachother a happy new year then went to my room after where we all talked for about 20 mins and then we all headed off to bed.

Rory and I left the ashram the day after. It was like the last day of school, it was a bit sad to leave the rock, bug, hair filled, putrid food behind, but more importantly the people. We all exchanged info, and made plans to go white water rafting in the next few days, so its not goodbye atleast. The town is so small here Im sure Ill even run into them in the streets.

Rory and I went to another ashram where we are sharing a room for a fraction of the cost we spent at the other ashram, there is just no food included. Works out perfect because I want to eat what I want for a bit :) The room has shared bathrooms, which are suprisingly only mildly disgusting, and alot more comfortable beds. Its just wood planks with a thin mattress but ironically it is very comfortable. The yoga classes are a bit slower which is also a good change. My body is telling me to give a few days rest which is exactly what Ive been doing.

Rory and I last night walked down the cold, silent, pitch dark roads with blankets wrapped around us talking. So we arrive at The Little Buddha again and to my suprise, they had FRIENDS on the T.V.! I was so stoked to see that! There was hardly anyone in at that time so there, I spread myself out, laid down on their nice padded sitting areas surrounded with pillows and blacks all nice and warm watching Friends. So stoked, you have no idea. After that they had seinfield and who's line is it anyway. We were there eating and drinking for about 2 hours. It was so comfortable and nice, our walk home was even darker and colder than the walk there but being bundled up in my blanket talking to my friend Rory, I couldnt have been happier.

So for the next few days I will be taking it easy. Ive been looking into yoga teacher training courses but the ones that are open are too exspensive and the reasonably priced ones are booked for most of the year. Initially thats what the money for this trip was going towards but figured I could learn here. However most places are booked and the style I want to learn only really gets taught back in the states, so many its best to wait it out I suppose. There are some beaches close to where we are staying, I got a few books to read, and so much good food in town, Im probably gonna be a bum for the next few days and I will enjoy every minute of it.
But then again, dont expect anything. Things are liable to change so quickly and you must drop your attachment to what you wanted, and roll with it with a smile on your face. I could stay here for months except I spend more in this town than in any other town I have been in so far in India and I got the Kite Festival coming up in Jaipur in a few weeks but I think I might just come back :)

I hope you all had safe, happy holidays surrounded with your family and friends.
Be happy!