Monday, February 9, 2009

The South: On Tour with Amma.

My sincerest apologizes for keeping you all waiting on your toes for this new blog.
This past month has been the milestone of my trip, and of my life, so I am extremely happy and grateful to be sharing it with all of you. I hope it turns out to be worth the anticipation.

Driving through the poor run down villages to Hampi in the cool brisk morning I look out my bus window and all I see is boulders, rocks and mountains with rocks and boulders. Hampi has quite the reputation for its unique rock formations and especially the sheer multitude of giant boulders and rocks. The scenary in the south is absolutely unreal to me. I constantly get the impression I am in a different country, its completely different from EVERYWHERE else I have been in India. Palm trees in vast quanities everywhere you look, green rice plantations, green, green, and green...The weather is humid, sticky and very hot. Walking outside is similar to when you open a oven a hot oven door and get smacked in the face with that rush of hot air. Driving throught villages, we pass dilapidated makeshift houses and temples with immsersed in the middle of hundred of palm trees that put malibu penthouse landscaping to shame. Kids constantly wave and shout at the bus as we them by, completely ecstatic to even get a glance in return. It feels like someone ran down the road upon seeing our tourist bus and told everyone to come outside on their stoop because when we drove by we were awaited patiently by kids and their family looking at us with extreme excitement and curiosity, and best of all, big hearty genuine gap tooth grins stretching clear across each ones face.

My neighbor on the bus ride immediately befriended me and we came travel partners for our time in Hampi. His name is Adam and we talked the majority of the ride to Hampi seeing that we had alot of common interests. He is on the budget end on his trip as well so we agreed to share a room, (it cuts the cost down on rooms (the most exspensive part of India down). When we step off the bus I immediately feel my arms frying like fresh chicken thats been dropped in a deep fryer. Its 8 in the morning and I can already feel myself burning after a few minutes unexposed in the sun. I dont have sunblock because until now, I saw it as an unneccesary exspense in my eyes.

The two days we were in Hampi were Adams last two days in India which would help explain how much we saw in those two days. We saw everything Hampi had to offer, and then some, no joke. Many old historical temples and beautiful scenary Hampi has to offer. On our way to our 3rd historical temple, we get pulled in from the street into a wedding reception and get food shoved in our hands. The words "eat" "please" and "sir" were repeated to us more times than I could count. We were given a plate pilled with delicious food and were seated in the kids section. After our plates are finished, they were immediately cleared away and we are shown the door. Feed us then kick us out all with smiles. That whole day we went to 5 different temples all by foot, and probably walked a total of 30 kilometers in the frying heat. To say I got a good nights rest that night would have been an understatement. The next morning, we are off again, but this time we get bicycles for everything that was left to see, walking would have been impossible. After seeing all the temples we went to two mountaintops to cimb up to have breathtaking views of glorious Hampi.

After that we decide it is time to goto a nearby lake for a dip which sounded amazing. The ride there just about killed me. It was mainly uphill on a bumpy dirt road. Once we get to the lake, we are surrounded by signs that warn us of crocodiles and advice not to swim too far out in the lake. We find a place, and within 2 seconds I am in the water. So good. Within a few minutes, I saw that some locals were jumping off a HUGE rock nearby into the water. Oh man, it had to have been 5 stories high. I take a deep breath, run, and Jeronimo!!!! So much fun. That was the best part of the lake for sure. It was time to head back so I could catch my bus to Kerala. I say my goodbyes to Adam and head off to Mangalore to then hitch a train to somewhere in Kerala. I had no idea where or what to do, I was pretty open about it, I didnt have anything planned yet. On the bus to Mangalore, I over heard someone talk about going to an Amma's Ashram in Kerala. For those of you who do not know, Amma is probably the most well known spiritual head alive today. She is known as the "hugging mother" for her darshan (blessings). She has changed the world one embrace at a time to roughly over 36 million people. Ive emailed this ashram with no reponse back a few months ago, so when I heard this I originally had thoughts of,
"Thats gonna be nice...I wish I could go but I dont think I will get in....I havnt registered...oh I want to do this and this maybe later Ill go...but I still didnt know what I was doing....We will see what to do..." When the bus arrived in Mangalore at 4am, I hopped on a rickshaw with two other people going to Kerala. Those two people were Kristen from Germany and Pierre from France. Kristen is 32 years old, tall, towering atleast 4 inches above me, strong build, long black curly/frizzy hair, speaks a good vocabulary of english and is a lesbian. Pierre is 27 about my height, very lean cut, dark tan, has short black curly hair, has major spaces between his teeth, and speaks with a strong french accent that reminds me of the cartoon charecter pepe le pu. Both very warm and kind people that I enjoyed being with.

My train ended up being the same one as Pierre and Kristen I was just gonna get off alot ealier than them and do whatever, I would decide it out on the train. I was heading in the right direction, thats all that mattered. The whole time on the train I kept bouncing back in forth if I would go to the ashram or not, and my intuition that has never failed me in India, told me to go. Just try, you have to atleast try. Ive spent too much of my life always saying " time" and never trying for the fear of rejection smacking me in the face, its time to change that. I dont care if I wont get in, atleast I could say I tried and I left the rest to God. If it is meant to be, it will all work out, that is one thing this trip has shown me for sure and I dont doubt the path God takes me on for there is always a reason for the steps I am taking. The train ride was one of the many tests to prove that I really wanted to go, I would be put through many tests to prove my sincereity. We had to switch off at some place in the middle of kerala to get on a train that was leaving in only a matter of minutes. Upon bombarding this train, it is empty so we scurry to get a seat. These bench seats are meant to hold 3 people comfortably but within a matter of minutes it was holding six, with people standing in the aisles and anywhere one could stand or sit. Ive never seen so many people crammed in such a small place in such short amount of time. The heat from the sun was scorching and the added body heat surrounding us made this train ride unbearable. Ive been travelling for 25 hours straight not leaving a sitting position only to pee and my legs were starting to feel its toll it was taking. The combination of sitting down for so long straight plus the blistering humid heat my ankles started to swell, swell bad. I could not see my ankle bones anymore, they merged completely into the size of my calf muscles giving my legs the look of large pvc pipes. Putting any weight on them hurt and felt like my skin was going to bust open with any pressure being put on them. To compound the issue you have mosquitos, the smell of bodily fluids, flys and a hunger strong enough to eat a whole cow constantly wavering in and out of your awareness. The only saving grace the train ride had was the breeze from the outside windows coming in. The worst part however is when that saving gravce as put on hold, stopping at each train station sometimes up to 30 minutes. No airflow make the awful stenches 100 times worse and makes everyone that much more cranky. I eventually gave up my seat just so I could go quat in the bathroom or near it. I didnt care about the smell anymore, just being able to have some personal space and give my aching butt and legs a rest. But just when I dont think I can take it any longer, that I might just jump off this train or throw someone from it to make room, I put on some Bob Marley and start singing to myself to calm down. Immediately, I hear Pierre singing along with me. So for the next 45 minutes of the trip we were singing Bob Marley around Indians who had no idea who he was or what mental illness we had. The power of music never fails to help, never.

After what seemed like an eternity we get off the train and then have to immediately get into a rickshaw to the Ashram. I kept telling myself, "Just one more hour of travelling and youll be done, if you get in that is..." We arrive at a large backwater with a indian gandola to cross to the ashram. This complex was ENORMOUS! Just to get there was a pilgrimage alone, especially if you didnt take the indian gondola across the backwater. You had to cross a large bridge, and all of this just takes you to the footsteps of this vast fortress. The ashram is like its own mini uptopia in the state of Kerala. It has many different areas where you can get a tasty or not so tasty snack. They have a juice bar where you can get fresh juice made for you on the spot (you have to ask for no sugar, Indians love sugar), a coffee/espresso/chai bar, a cafe (which at times has Vegan goodies!), a indian cafteria, or where I am always at, the free indian food cafeteria. You could also buy treats from the 3 or 4 general store shops, if you couldnt decide any of those. Apart from food places, it has two kinds of medical centers, western medicine (pills) and eastern aryuvedic (indian natural herbs) medicine, Aryuvedic Consultant, Astrologist, Massuese, Bank, Taxi center you name it, its is here somehow. For the most part, all of the cash flow through the ashram goes towards one of the many Amma chaities like building schools in india or building houses that get wiped out from a disaster, always a positive constructive cause.
As soon as we step off our awesome Indian night cruise, we start walking through the ashram to find the registration counter. I havent showered, slept or ate in over 36 hours, my clothes are soaked with sweat, my skin is caked with dirt, my blood sugar is at a extreme low and my crankiness is at an extreme high. Upon walking up to the ashram I am greeted by westerners talking to each other, some reading or journaling and all I notice is white. Everyone is wearing loads of white..Nothing but white..I dont think I have worn a single article of white clothing in what?...A few years??...I hope I dont have to adjust, but I knew I would have to if I was to stay here...We register and by the loving grace of God, guess what? I got in. The intuition is never wrong.

After registering our two main priorities were to put down our bags in our room and get some food. Pierre and I got assigned to a Dorm room that has been built espeically for the extra flow of people that Amma attracts when she is staying at the ashram. Upon walking into the dorm I immediately run to a top bunk and Pierre goes to the bottom bunk. After we set down our stuff we try to hunt down some food. Normally the food would be long gone and closed by now but once again by the loving grace of God it was still open. Even the cashier commented on how he doesnt understand why it is open so much later than usual, but I knew why, and I was extremely grateful for it. We didnt have enough time to get our bedding (sheets, pillow, etc) So I just slept on the mattress the ashram provdied me with and covered myself with my blanket for extra mosquito protection. Mosquitoes are pretty bad in the south, worst I have encountered in India to date. I kept waking up in the middle of the night thinking I had a little accident in the bed because of how wet everything was around me, but it turns out it was my sweat. The fans in the room didnt reach the top bunk so well and trying to protect myself from the mosquitos with my blanket wasnt the best idea for the sweating/heat factor. I had no other option, I would sweat off the repellent in a matter of minutes, making those attempts absoluteltly futile. If only I knew what was in store for me the next day...I would have taken some extra procatution...Oh if I only knew...Another test to see if I really want to be here....

The next morning I had to sign up for what is called here SEVA (selfless service) which is a requirement to stay here and is essentially chores, just not with the mindset of it being forced upon you, when it really is... You are required to do work here, but they expect it to not be looked at as a job, it is to be looked at as being a selfless service, a few hours out of each day. When I went to sign up, I saw a bored requesting dishwashers, and after requesting that SEVA the lady puts down her pen, pushes her glasses down alittle on her nose, and looks me in the eyes and says,
"The WOMEN...wash the dishes here..."
"Ok, well in that case put me wherever A MAN would be needed.."

I got assigned gardening. There are two gardens at the ashram, one inside the ashram made to just admire its beauty and the other is a Tulasi garden 30 minutes away from the ashram by foot. The road leads me along the ocean on one side, and houses of the fishing village line the other side, crammed next to each other. Its a great view and I dont mind the walk at all in the early hours of the morning its quite pleasant. My SEVA was definately a mans job. They gave me all the back breaking horrible jobs that the women clearly didnt want to do. I was the only guy on their squad. My first day was shovelling cow poop and spreading it on a plot in the roasting sun. I didnt mind, it was great excercise and I considered it a blessing to be given this job.

Within the first few days I befriended only a few people, but they slowly became like precious gems to me. I would rather have 5 sincere, loyal friends than 50000 aquantancies.
The first person I met was a guy in his mid forties from Belgium named Mattheo. He in no way shape or form, struck me as someone who just turned 45. His persona matches his looks. He reminds me of the old Joker from batman that you would see in old comic books. His forehead slopped straight down, and his nose followed the slant giving his side profile a downward slant look. He had brown curly hair that down to his shoulders and was pulled into a ponytail. He walked everywhere without shoes, I saw him with shoes on, maybe twice out of the month I spent around him. He was a complete goof ball and brought out the joker in myself...Back in Belgium his job was working with alot of energy work. He has worked alot with healing shamans in south america so he definately has a passion into the healing capacities of the human body. Everytime he eats, he always takes a few minutes to put his hands over his food, blessing his food. I loved seeing him do this because it was a beautiful sight to see, its like you could see and feel the energy beaming from him. Aside from this side of him he was totally involved in music. As an example He wore tiny bells on his ankles, "to remind me about my passion of music". Let me make a note, that the only people that wear bells on their ankles were women. No man would be caught dead with bells on their ankles. This totally portrays Mattheo in my eyes. The best part is that I could hear him coming clear across the other side of the room and it would never fail for me to stop what I am doing and look for him.

I met another guy in his early 30's named Ryan. He is from Norman Oklahoma and I nearly soiled myself when I heard this because I have family in that town and never, ever in my wildest dreams, did I think I would meet someone from Oklahoma in India. We have very similar stories and after talking for a few hours instantly we became friends. We pretty much did everything together after we met. His personality reminds me exactly of my old friend Justin. He decided to come with me after Kerala to goto Dharamsala to see The Dalai Lama and then to go see Nepal after.

Mattheo introduced me to Victor who was from France. He had a skinny build like me, alittle bit shorter, and had brown curly hair parted to the side. He loved asking me questions about California and the life there and if it is really how he sees it is in the movies. He would let me talk about California for hours if I wanted to.

Then there was Donn from Seattle. He was in his early 50's, had short gray curly hair that was balding in the center of his head, and looked like a mix between Eric Clapton and Richard Gere. I met him the first day I was there, when I was eating breakfast. I was looking for a place to sit down and eat and I saw a seat next to Donn. I sit down and place my book on the table and immediately he looks up after seeing the book I am reading and says,
"OH...Thats supposed to be a GREAT book"
(One of the many things I loved about Donn was his voice would constantly fluctuate its octives when he is expressing any sort of emotion. This gave his personality a kick of his dorkiness which I grew to admire so much.)
"Well, Ive barely scratched the surface. Im only on page 60, so that makes....About 1200 more to go"
He grabs to book and looks it over intentively. After some time reading to himself he says
"OH YEAH...Just the first sentence draws you in YOU KNOW?"
We sat talking about things for about an hour. During this conversation the way he looked at me with such openess and love I found myself being uncomfortable seeing that I almost let my guard down with someone allowing them to touch the inner part of my soul. Its not unnatural for me to do this especially for the first time I talk to someone. As the days went on, the more an more we saw each other and the more and more we kept talking and opening up to one another. We would constantly be eating our meals together, having chai together, and just talking in the dorms. We saw eye to eye on alot of things making it easy for us to spend hours talking. One of the things I also loved talking to Donn about was my dreams. He never condoned a single idea no matter how crazy it might have seemed, he encouraged me with his entire being to follow my heart. I told him that this trip has shown me the way of life for me. That life is a traveller. I love being totally self dependent, not knowing where I will be in a month, or what I will be doing tomarrow, and living purely on where God places me and getting to see the massive quanity of beauty the world has to offer at the same time. I wanted to take a roadtrip around the states, living in my car, just having oddball jobs in some random town until I save up enough money to where I go somewhere else and then write a book about it. Upon hearing any idea that he knew I was passionate about never a word of skepticism came from his lips. He couldnt stress the fact enough for me to do it, if thats what my dream is, do it Cody, and he would give me as much guidance as I was willing to take. Just like my parents, he never put down my dreams. Never. So many times we walk through life where people say I wish I could have done this or wish I could have done that and for whatever reason they dont ever do it, something holds them back. I dont ever want to be held back from my dreams.

Last but not least was Karl from Australia. His real name was Karl but his spiritual name was Avinash. I called him Avi for short. He was in his early thrities as well, had a stocky build like a football player, short blonde hair and always had a half cracked smile on his face. Whenever he had a free minute to spare he would always say,
"Oh this is a great opportunity to do some japa!" (chanting of goda name)
Avi is the groups shagah conessuier. A shagah is a mix of frozen milk, chocolate powder, bananas, cookies, cherries, all blended together with enough sugar added ontop to ensure you will have diabetes. He had tasted them all around Kerala and will fight someone to the death who bad mouths our personal shagah maker.

On my first few days there, I overheard from my crew of friends at lunch about Amma going on tour throughout Kerala and the state above it Karnataka. They were all going and advised me that I could sign up if I wanted to. When Amma comes to Los Angeles each summer, I see people working and serving the tour and I always thought to myself,
"Those people are so fortunate to be serving a event like this, I wish I could some day.."
That day is close at hand for I decided to sign up. I will be on tour with Amma. After signing up and buying all my extra needed gear, I decided to update my journal and it was upon sitting there, I started sweating bad, my arms started itching...Bad....To the point where I couldnt stop...I figured I got bit by some mosquitoes and tried to let it go, but if I only knew what was instore for me...I would have done something...ANYTHING....

That night in the ashram after recieving darshan from Amma at 1 in the morning I decide it is time for bed. Laying there in bed I realized my itching and sweating was progresively getting worse. Just when I thought it couldnt get any more unbearable it does. I turn on the light to see what was going on with my body, and mainly my arms were covered, literally painted red and swollen in huge clusters of lumps. I have never, ever, experienced such an intense craving to rip my skin off with my own hands and teeth, until this very moment. Hundreds of red bumps on each arm (no joke), mainly on the back of my upper arm below my armpit and on my tricep. These red swollen clusters of death made my arm look and feel like cottage cheese. I laid in my bed and waited til the sun came up, itching, and sweating and itching and sweating...By morning these lovely lumps spread pretty much throughout my whole body (By the loving grace of God my face and genitals were excluded). Some spots worse than others and the sensation to itch and tear my skin off grew like a wildfire with each second. I immediately walk to my SEVA and tell them I am not working like this. Upon seeing this, my supervisor, along with everyone else who sees it, gives me their own prognosis. She thought it to be an infection of some sort. Others say bed bugs, others say mosquitoes, some say a allergic reaction to the food or laundry detergent. Each person that saw it gave me a different assumtpion. The ashram is essentially closed one day a week, and that day just so happened to be today, so I couldnt see a doctor or buy any medicine. I had one hour of hope. The aryuvedic doctor was open for one hour that evening. I decided to see her, it was my only option. In the meantime I was reading my first aid booklet I brought with me and it was talking about Prickly heat where its is small clusters of red bumps that are caused by sweating and they itch. This sounded the most of what it could be but I still went to the doctor to see what she says.
"Ahh looks like you got attacked by something! Look at all those bites!"
"So you think they are bites?
"Yeah its what it looks like"
"Do you think it could maybe be prickly heat or a heat rash from sweating?"
she looks over my arm for a few minutes
"No they look like bites. Have you gone toilet today? (holding up the number 2 in her hand)
"Ok, tomarrow you will do a cleanse."
She starts pulling out a pad a paper and writing my prescriptions.
The page gets full and she says,
"Take this first one very early in the morning on an empty stomach and drink warm water every half hour for 4 hours. This will make you go toilet ALOT. Good for cleanse, good for body and overall health. You are to not eat any solid food tomarrow, just water, for dinner you could have some rice porridge if you like."
"I dont understand how a cleanse is gonna help bites..."
She assures me that it will and send me out.

After this i went into the main hall for bahjans. Bhajans are songs expressing love for the divine, and at the ashram they were always performed live. When Amma is at the Ashram she sings with the group and it is quite powerful. Sitting on the floor I was so uncomfortable, pissed off, angry, and sweaty but nonetheless, In times of despair it is a good opportunity to cultivate love and acceptance of the situation life puts you in but my attempts were completely futile at this point. This was another test to see if I really wanted to be here. After Bhajans, I hurried and got food and went straight to bed where I dont have to avoid talking to people out of the fear of lashing out at them due to my extreme unpleasantness. Same as the night before, I toss, turn, itch and sweat. I do everything but rest. Anxiety takes over my body for I dont know if mosquitoes are biting me, if bed bugs are crawling on me, if I have an infection, or even worse, the unknown of what it REALLY is. To top it all off, I am so unbearably hot that I go outside and tell myself,
"Im just gonna sleep on my balcony floor, I dont care."
But I couldnt sleep out there, I was restless, angry, full of anxiety and extremely sleep deprived. Its 2 in the morning and I decided to goto the beach to slow down, just like the late night beach back home. In the midst of extreme suffering comforting thoughts of the simple pleasures back home take my mind off the present pain.
Sitting at the beach I bury my feet in the sand to cover them from mosquitoes, and put my arms and head in my shirt giving me the best protection from mosqitoes I could get. I wish I had someone to talk to, to vent to, that would listen and tell me everything would be alright but I had no one. I needed to get it out so I just start talking outloud to myself. Immediately I start crying repeating to myself,

"I want to go home...I want to go home..." as I rock back inforth crying inside my shirt
"I want to go home...where I am comfortable...No more rice and chapati...Oh god, no more chapati....I want to go home...I want to go home so I wont be alone anymore...I miss my family and friends...I want to go home...I want to go home....I miss being comfortable...I miss being comfortable...I want to go home..."

This went on for quite some time, but I waited motionless until it was ALL out. All of it. Not a drop left. When I knew it was time, I wiped my tears and snot from my face and headed back to the room, put on some music and waited for the sun to rise once again. I am trying so hard to take advantage of these precious moments to cultivate love, compassion and acceptance in times like these, but the feelings of despair are so overwhelming that I cannot help to be consumed by its power. Yet I still hold on, I want this. The rewards that came from sticking around were more than I could have ever asked for in my whole lifetime.

In the morning I start contemplating to myself,
"Should I take this medicine or not....Im already as uncomfortable as I could ever imagine, do I want to possibly add to it by having to run to the toilet every 10 mintues?...Yes...If it is a chance i can feel better I would take a blowtorch to my skin."
The medicine was a powder and didnt taste bad. Tasted kinda good actually. I drank my water every half hour and after 4 hours nothing happened. What a joke. I fasted and crap, took this crappy medicine, and im not even crapping! Shortly after, it hit me like a ton of bricks. During one of my safe moments, I managed to get down to one of the general stores to buy different things to possibly help my situation. I bought a mosquito net to put over my bed, and bought powder for prickly heat. I bought and thought of everything possible to help this situation, it put me way out of budget but I dont care, as long as if it might help me, I would do pretty much anything at this point I was so desperate. I got back to the room, set up my net and moved beds, changed sheets, and put on some powder. Once the powder made contact with my skin it was a relief like you could not believe. I was convinced at that very moment they were not bites, I had a severe, heavily severe case of prickly heat rash and this powder provided me with the relief that I cannot even begin to describe. My eyes start to tear after realizing it will soon be over. I thought to myself,
"It will soon be over, you found the cure and you found the correct diagnosis. You will soon be comfortable again Cody."
I kept the cleanse up even though it wouldnt help the rash at all, its nice to give the digestive system a break every once and awhile. Amma actually even suggests people to fast for one day a week for that very reason. For sunset I went back to the same spot I sat in last night balling my eyes out with the feeling of getting through the biggest test of faith in my life. I cannot begin to describe how uncomfortable, painful, and unbearable my situation was those few days but getting through it and knowing it will all be over soon, a smile worth a thousand words came to my face. When it was time for bed, I went to my bunk, turned on the fan to blast the air, opened the window next to my bed, slept in as little clothing as possible, situated my mosquito net, put on my favorite playlist on my Ipod, let out a the biggest sigh of relief from my body and sunk into the deepest, unpenetrable sleep Ive had in my glorious 22 years of living.

The next day we left for the tour. It was a 9 day tour stopping in three places. Mangalore, Calicut, and Tannur.

The daily program for each day on tour was quite similar. We typically stayed in most places for 2 nights and were on the bus for about 16 hours in between each place. The day began around 8am for breakfast. Our sleeping arrangement were the same for two of the places, on the floor of one of Ammas schools she built. The other time, we were set at a Yacht club were I slept outside on the balcony where I was blessed to see the sunrise and sunset come up and down over the backwaters from my "bed". The day is filled with different things going on, sometimes by themselves or with 10 other things going on. Bhajans with Amma, Darshan, Pujas (ritualistic worship), and any time you are not eating or at one of the previous things mentioned, you are working, somewhere doing something. My required SEVA was pot washing from 1030 pm to 1230 pm. My other time I filled with anywhere else help was needed.

The setup for the potwashing was ridiculous. We had a crew of about 15 people, and at each place, the setup was meant for people in groups no bigger than 5. The "floor" was palm tree branches covering a deep hole in the ground for the water to filter down to. Our cleaning utensils, were either a coiled up rope or shreds of the outer layer of a coconut. Washing these pots were the dirtiest job in the whole tour for sure. I bought an apron before we left to use specifically for this job. The best part of pot washing (besdies the crew) was the walk through the kitchen the smell of spices coming from men cooking curries in pots big enough to swim in or from women chopping fresh veggies. Indians love their spices, ESPEICALLY in the south.

After my first potwashing session I had an additional SEVA that i signed up for working on the stage wiping peoples faces from 1 to 3 in the morning. So after the most grimiest, digusting pot washing session, I hurry up to the shower to make myself somewhat presentable, and head down to the stage. So my job. Wipe peoples faces. Get as much sweat and dirt off these peoples filthy faces as possible. Amma is hugging thousands of people tonight so you can imagine how dirty her white sari could get if it wasnt for face wipers. This for me, was the highlight of the tour an of coming to Kerala for many reasons. It was worth it completely getting the opportunity to serve so many people and being a represenative of Amma. The biggest smile was never not on my face. I welcomed each man, woman, and child with my hands at my center and the biggest and warmest smile Ive ever felt on my face. For the most part people were extremely friendly and thankful for the service I was providing, which made my smile and the urge to serve expand just like the love that was growing in my heart. Some people would grab my hands when I had my palms together at my chest and put them on their face revealing their hearty gap tooth smiles. The women didnt feel comfortable having a male touch them in ANY way, so I evetually didnt bother even asking them, but I never forgot to greet them with a smile with my palms turned inward. I connected with these people on a level I never knew existed. Pure love and being completely selfless. At times I caught tears welling up in the corners of my eyes because I realized this reminded me of the inspiring loving and selfless example my mother has set for me. The few times Ive been given the pleasure of volunterring with my mom serving homeless people food on Thanksgiving for her church, I saw the same emotions in her eyes and in her heart as I was feeling in mine. We were both serving the same cause, Love and selflessness and God and this made me feel on top of the clouds. So to sum it up, for those two hours, wiping the dirt and sweat from strangers faces, I was in a such a profound state of bliss and love, to say Ive expierienced something in the past that came close to what I was feeling then would be a lie. I never knew such strong emotions existed or that it would ever be possible to have my heart expanded so wide.

All the days were late nights like that. I was constantly signing up for SEVA to where I could work with people or atleast be on stage close to what is going on. Thank God, I was able to drink loads and loads of chai to make up for the major sleep defeciet that was racking up. But all the moments at the event werent so happy daisy and full of love and calmness. At one point I am walking through the the huge crowd up people where I right beside me alittle girl locks up and falls straight on her head. Her eyes were in a fixed gaze towards the sky and immediately I thought to myself "shes having a siezure". I run over to the family and tell them we need to take her to the medical center of the event (pointing in the distance), but due to my tone and impatience for the sake of her health, they interpretted it as being attacking and kept telling me no. So I rushed to the medical center and found the two people there talking about last nights cricket match totally uninterested in anything outside their awareness of themselves. I interrupted them atleast 3 times pleading with them that a girl just had a siezure and that she needs medical attention, now. After 10 minutes many interruptions, and dirty looks, they conclude the cricket scores and statistics. One of the "helpers" gets the wheel chair and walks as walking at a pace as if hes admiring art in a museum. I rush and find the family and I prayed that she got the medical attention she deserved, and not what she was probably given.

After the tour its time for some good-byes. The most difficult part of travelling alone is just when you think your lonliness will never subside, great people are placed into your life and leave just at the moment you began to cultivate a connection with each other. Im tired of saying Goodbye to so many great people whos presence in my life was truly God-Sent. When the tour was over Donn wasnt returning back to the ashram, he was going home.

Im washing my tiffin box ( a metal box that holds your food, basically an indian lunchbox) and I hear a voice behind me say,
"Be well Cody..."
I put down my dishes and turn around and I see Donn looking down at the floor.
"You leavin now?"
"Yeah..Im gonna head into town and see when I can catch a bus out of here...YOU KNOW?"
I did know and didnt want to know. We excahgned contact info and made small talk to keep the words "Goodbye" away and the pain of saying it to someone who you would like to see again but deep down you know you never will at bay.
"Shoot...Well Im gonna go get some water for the journey..."
My eyes were looking down at my feet and once I knew the postponement was over, I swallowed the knot in my throat, looked up and said...
"Keep in touch Donn...Please...Please keep in touch..."
"I will Cody."
A long silence proceeded as we held ourthe look into each others eyes. I tried so hard to fight the tears that I knew would come streaming down if they were given the chance. I saw Donn was fighting the same battle. His eyes were tearing up and the white part of his eyes were not a light pink. At this moment something beautiful happened. Something that goes beyond the comprehension of words. In silence, looking into Donns eyes and letting him look into mine, for the first time I know what the term means to have you soul touched. I never knew what that term meant until that instant. I let that guard down that was up the first time we met. This trip I have been working on alot of things to better myself and one of them is to be more open and loving with people and with myself. For the first time I let my guard down COMPLETELY and something beautiful manifiested from that. Sure, Ive been open with people and vice versa but a guard has always been up blocking me to be fully open and receptive of someone elses love or even my own. Even with life, not my relationships with people, Ive had a guard up to block me from the beauty in life. This trip Ive been working on breaking that guard and this was the first sign that my heart is begining to be fully open.
Breaking the moment, he points to my book on the table next to me, clears his throat, smiles, and says,
"You know...Thats supposed to be a WONDERFUL book..."
"Yeah it is....YOU KNOW"
"I dont...BUT Im gonna buy it when I get back home and then I'll let you know. Take care Cody."
"Take care Donn."
We shook hands and as he is walking away, I fold my hands infront of my chest with eyes full of tears but with a smile on my face, he does the same. Donn taught me one of the most valubale lessons for me in my life. That there is nothing to be scared of or needed with guards in ones life. When you let those down fully and connect with people or life something that is beyond words, beyond human comprehension, is felt. When you open your heart genuienly and completely, love is felt and love is truly the greatest emotion to give and recieve. I am begining to open my heart.

Coming back to the ashram after the tour I resumed my original SEVA of gardening and picked up where I left off. I got a different room, which is essentially an apartment room that holds 3 people and you have your own bathroom. On my first day back, my supervisor tells me that I am back to shovelling cow poop.
"Ill show you where to get it, we pay a local villager by the wheelbarrow of poop so keep count"
She leads me to a huge fresh steamy pile of cow poop, gives me a shovel and wishes me good luck. Why do I keep getting assigned shovelling cow poop?...Cant I have something else?...The heat from the sun made this quite a smelly job. I did 10 wheelbarrows full of poop and went back to the ashram for lunch, exhausted and rundown. I couldnt take anymore. My clothes couldnt get any more soaked with sweat, and my arms were about to give out, I need some rest. On my way back to the ashram there are these animals in the palm trees that make a whistle sound that remind me of the whistle that my Dad and I do. Everytime I hear it, I return the whistle, and me and the mysterious animal go back and forth between sounds. I feel like the spirit of my Dad is in those sounds and I love it, it never fails to make me smile. The remaining time I spent at the ashram I spent shovelling cow poop and helping shape and structure the plots. Every once in awhile I was gifted to recieve watering duty. This was quite the blessing.

I picked up a new ritual of being back at the ashram. Avi, Ryan and I go and get late-night Shagahs after dinner. We know the man who makes them for us, and he sets us up chairs and has the blender ready to go for when he sees us walk down the dimly lit street. He knows what we want and how we like em and he makes the best shagahs in the whole state of Kerala, for these are only available in Kerala. Ryan and Avi were both ex- addicts/alcoholics so here we are, having shagahs instead of beers at our little makeshift bar in Kerala. It finally felt great to have that kinship with someone. We all came from the same horrible past and are striving for something positive and full of love.

On my second to last day at the ashram I had a few unfortaunte events happen. At my morning seva I was moving concrete slabs in a wheelbarrow where going through a patch of sand made the wheelbarrow wheeblewabbly and fell over, on my foot. I series of 4 letter words you only hear in R rated movies flowed out from my mouth easly and without restraint like the blood streaming from my foot. I hobble over to a place I can sit down, and one of the girls on the squad starts fixing me up. All I hear from the people surrounding me is,
"Is that a tendon?...Is that the tendon?...Deep cut...Tendon..Tendon...."
It turns out it wasnt the tendon, it was just a flap of skin.
I get back to ashram and goto the hostpial and get properly bandaged. Everything is ok, it will just take some time to heal properly.

The worst part of that day was when I had to say goodbye again, to another great person I met. Mattheo was leaving. I had Victor help me with translating a letter from English to French for me to give to Mattheo. Us three are eating lunch together where the conversations are brief and small, where the energy is low and the smiles dont last long for we all know this is our last meal together, and our last time together.
I tell Mattheo,
"I got a present for you."
"Oh yeah? whats that?"
I hand him a letter that on the front it says, "To open on your train ride" in French. My eyes begin to water and once I realize whats coming I put my head down.
"Victor helped me with it. This couldnt have been possible without Victors help, I owe him big time for this. I just want you to know...This couldnt have been possible without Victor..."
What started as tearing up, now turned into uncontrollable sobbing. I lost it. In the middle of the cafteria surrounded by people staring at me wondering what brought me to the current situation I am at.
"I....Dont like goodbyes...I dont....Handle them so well..."
Mattheo puts his hand on my shoulder and leaves it there for a good 5 minutes with his eyes closed. I feel better, but for when he took his hand away, it came back again.
"Its just so hard...When you meet people, connect with them, and leave them..."
Mattheo responds with,
"I know...I feel this connection (pointing to this heart), this connection with you guys is dying and a part of me is dead now without being with you guys..."
Mattheo has done alot of work with Shamans, and at this point he asked me to join hands with him and for me to close my eyes.
"What is this for Mattheo?...."
"I think we have had a a past life together..."
"How?...With what?"
"I dunno, thats what I want to find out..."
"so what do I do..."
"Just feel..."
I sat with Mattheo for a few minutes, him waving in an out of crying and blurting out little bits and pieces as if this vision was passing by him in a vision. I dont know if any of this is true, but to see his undying faith and passion in his ability to see this was truly beautiful.
"I think you were my little brother...In a past life....I see you...Praying in a field....With me, on a mat....We were very close brothers and very young....Maybe 4 years old...."
His crying became so violent he let go of my hands and said,
"I cant do it anymore, its just too painful (pointing at his heart)...Can I have a hug now because I wont be able to when I am leaving..."
Just like when I was saying Goodbye to Donn, I let no guard be up, letting myself recieve affection and give affection. There are certain ideals that the common man feels he must live up to due to societies portrayl of whats expected of a man. Men are not supposed to express their feelings, let alone cry. We are brought up that it is the weak who cry. The strong hold back their tears. Dropping that false concept has sbeen one of the contributors to my happiness and the opening of my heart. To cry and express your feelings to another person is a wonderful and beautiful expierience between two people. Men are not supposed to even show affection towards each other, homophobia kicks in and shuts off your ability to give or recieve love. Just like with Donn, when I was saying Good-bye to Mattheo and we gave each other our last hug with no guards up restricting our love to exchange, letting myself recieve and give love and affection to another person is such a beautiful expierience. We cried on each others shoulders and for the briefest of moments I felt what its like to be completely open and filled with pure love, to express that love, to give that love, to recieve that love, and to just

This past month has been the milestone in my life for I am starting to realize how much I am growing as a person, which was the ultimate goal of this trip and my life. I am gaining new insight into the ups and downs of life. Ive been noticing for starters the difference in the intensity of my happiness and how I relate to sadness when it comes. When I am happy I shine with my whole being. When Im sad, Im sad but Im not depressed. There is nothing wrong with sadness, its our rejection of sadness that creates the conflict. When sadness comes I enjoy it. When happiness comes I enjoy it. When saying goodbye to Donn and Mattheo yeah I was sad but at the same time I was really happy that something could make me feel that sad. Its emotions that set us apart from being mechanical robots and as a result you know what its like ti be fully alive. To add, the only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt something so extraordinary before and as a result what you get is a beautiful sadness. I realized that in my past, a huge part of me was closed from life and with people, I was always at a distance, from life and people, never fully able to expierience the true pleasures in life. The situations where I was forced to say goodbye to the people I shared great things with show me that I am increasin my capacity to love other people and most importantly to recieve love. If there is one thing, one thing that is missing in this world, is love. The world is lacking love. The beatles hit it right on the head, "All you need is love". Love is truly the greatest gift life has to offer for I feel I am just starting to get a glimpse of the overwelming bliss, love comes with. Ive spent a great majority of my life, angry and depressed, not only with the world, but with myself. All that did was dig deeper the whole of misanthropy that I was so blindy in. If life had a meaning, I truly believe its for each individual to find out their means of attaining the greatest emotion felt by man, love. Love for ones-self, love for others, and love for the divine. Love. Its the greatest thing in life.

So to conclude, this past month with its crazy roller coaster of emotions, of its highs and lows, and its extreme tests of faith, it all has shown me how I am growing in sensitivity of love in life. By sensitive I mean that I pick up on seeing love in everything and where I dont see it I want to fill it with love. Within or outside myself. Amma set this example for me and I feel is partky responsibile and a great contributor to my expierience for she embodies pure love and practices it everyday and everything she does. She truly fills her heart with love and expresses it in everything she does. All I see and want to be is love, for once you have started to expierience what it truly feels like to have your heart touched and filled with love or to give others true love, it will become your main purpose in life. And that, is the greatest gift God could have ever given me and I wish to share it with everyone and everything I meet. This is why, this past month has been a milestone in my trip and of my life for I feel my heart opening so wide that it is truly showing me what it is truly like to live rather than to merely exist.

May you all be a light of love unto the world. May the sun always be upon your face and the wind at your back. I love you all.

Be happy!!