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!