Friday, May 21, 2010

India: A song devoted to all the setting suns

The sun wakes me. Judging by the quality of light, I doubt the time is any later than 6 am. I gaze to my right. Here the steeply pitched walls of my thatched roof and the corners of my mattress meet - the latter being flush with the floor - this forms a 10 foot triangular opening that serves as my window. The scene today is typical. Through the light veil of my mosquito net an open field of mild green stretches off into the distance. Breaking up this expanse are two long hillocks of upturned earth; they're 20 meters apart and each is perhaps 50 meters long by 6 meters wide. From my vantage point they reach out toward the south at 60 degree angles -- they're known as swales in the business of water conservation. Each is covered in low lying bean sprouts with searching tentacles, bushy green weeds and a dark mulch of dry bark and Acacia leaves. Accompanying trenches run along their eastern side, the edges of which boast wispy Vetiver grass swaying every so gently in the morning breeze. The field rolls on, its main body littered with heaping piles of thin tree stalks, all cut and stripped of their bark; the building materials for more of these huts. In the distance to the south, at the edge of the field, the silhouetted frame of a water tower stands above a shadowy tree line. Beyond this lay a tropical dry evergreen forest; a black floating sea that stretches up from the earth and tickles the belly of an orange-white-blue-gold sky all the way to the horizon.

A pleasant draft passes through the hut and I welcome its caress on my bare skin. I roll to my left and sigh contentedly, my eyes taking in the naked body of my lover. I've gone to the trouble of putting two mattress side by side, so we share what amounts to a king sized bed, giving us enough space to sleep comfortably while incidentally allowing me to observe the entirety of her form. Her name is Natalie. A petite Russian woman with a sharp mind and a body sculpted by yoga. I adore her. She must feel my eyes because she stirs, her blue eyes blinking slowly against the soft light. Brushing an errant strand of blond hair from her face she turns, smiling when she notices me watching her. She makes an mmmm sound along with a halfhearted stretch and reaches her right hand out to find me. Our last Saturday morning together. I kiss the back of her wrist before lacing my fingers into hers. After a moment she begins to breath softly and I know she's asleep once again.

* * * *

The temple of our net protects us from the mosquitoes, but not the reality of time. That remains immediate. Soon I'll be gone. Away from this hut. Away from this simple life. Away from India, Asia and the East. Away from the beauty and brilliance resting beside me. And though I have accepted that I've grown weary with the passing of so much time in a foreign land and am ready to move on, I'm also finding it difficult to let go. So much has happened in this vast country. I have gained more than I ever would have imagined. It's all so much. All at once my throat becomes tight. Beads well on the edges of my eyelids and tears threaten to run down my cheeks. A moment passes before I'm able to fully identify these feelings. Its happened. Joy and gratitude have made their appearance.

* * * *

Lying with Natalie's hand in mine, I turn my attention to the calm pasture once again. The tears begin to come slowly, silently. I take a moment to acknowledge them. After a while, and with some effort, I begin to reflect on the last nine months of my life. To reflect on everything I have to be joyous and grateful for.

I shake my head lightly, realizing how much there is to recount. For a moment,
I contemplate crawling over to a journal and writing everything down. This makes me wince a bit; I've scarcely recorded a word in all the hours and days and months I've been on the ground. A fact I regret. After mulling the idea over however, I decide against any movement. The moment would be disturbed and may never forgive me. Instead, I take deep conscious breaths and let the verity of my negligence fill my lungs. I briefly linger, then exhale. Somehow this creates space inside; a satisfying new breadth develops that lends itself to contemplation.

Being still, my soul begins to swell, bringing a sense of peace with a soft smile in tow. My skin seems to flutter, and a drowsy feeling settles in. With this, something shakes loose, something I can't pinpoint from somewhere way down inside. This unnameable entity begets an image of self and I watch as this image begins to drift through the scenes and scents and feelings that have accumulated since last September. This phantom-self gains momentum and begins to drift swiftly through a teary half dream.

see the snow covered peaks of the Himalayan mountain range gouging the sky. Homes and hostels and bars painted in various shades of pink or purple or blue pastel. Gold, silver and bronze trinkets. Festooning electrical wires that bridge tightly packed streets. Open sewers running down steeply sloped hills. Saffron clad monks sporting one bare shoulder. The sweet beaming face of the Dalai Lama blessing the world as he passes in his motorcade. White porcelain coffee cups. Chess in the sun. Cheap ragged rooms, cool with mountain air. The green eyes and bare hips of a lover. I recall hash at lunch. Whiskey for dinner. Too much thali. Malai Kofta. Momos. Dosa. Hide & Seek cookies. Many a chai. I feel a tinge of sadness while thinking of a skinny little gypsy boy dressed in dull green rags, belting out Hindi prayers in hopes of getting a coin. I get flashes of grimy bus windows. Loving fathers pouring kisses over delicate daughters on long arduous rides. Humidity and grit in the morning air. Clouds of dust. Thousands of bodies moving in concert. Baskets on heads. Babies weeping into the backs of inattentive mothers. I re-live the slender alleys and colorful hallways of the Muslim quarter, the air heavy with the scent of kebabs. I picture the plump, kufi clad Sufis bellowing out love songs to Allah whilst sitting amongst swaying crowds of the devout. Suddenly the ominous towers and purple cone shaped bulbs of the Pakistani embassy rise before me; I am again intimidated by the ancient weathered walls crowned with tightly coiled razor wire. I see temples wrought from gold standing proud against the sun. These divine structures surrounded by man made holy lakes, all cradled in the palm of white marble fortresses. My body drifts swiftly through the mass of pilgrims daily visiting these holy grounds. Bowing. Bathing. Weeping. Praying. I recall enormous dinning halls with impossibly high columns. Hungry devotees in rows of 100 or more, chowing on free hearty meals. The tink and clank of thousands of metal dishes being washed in constant rotation rings in my ears. I see spears, turbans and bare feet. I recollect tails of martyrdom and revenge. I smile at the image of the brown eyed beauty who encouraged me to come south, to Tamil Nadu. I picture the damp, slender passageway streets of Manuj Katila, the little Tibetan city of exiles resting on the outskirts of Delhi. Then the ocean. I can still smell the salty sting of the Arabian Sea off the coast of Gokarn and picture its gold and white beaches. I remember desolate coves. Arms of land embracing the sea. Sleazy drug dealers with yellow teeth and slender eyes. The harsh smell of cheap booze, hash and petroleum. The tattooed forms of so many western drunks. New years eve on the beach. Khaki uniforms swinging clubs and beating the locals. Didjeridoos, drums and dreadlocks everywhere. A burning man built from drift wood and dried palm leaves. Then moving south once again. Being jostled about a creaky old bus, bouncing through mountain passes.

The dream suddenly collapses. This astral self has been sustained by what little consciousness I have been able to cling to, slowly depleting it. Now the need for sleep becomes demanding.
Trying to find my way back to a more coherent state I falter. The dream flight bursts back to life but time blurs across the sleepy canvas of my mind and I lose all sense of chronology. I begin careening through vivid memory waves, random events and time periods.

I see calm
Sadhus draped in orange, faces and flowing beards painted white against matted locks of hair all tied together with garlands of yellow and purple and red flowers. I remember the emaciated forms of so many working men clad in dirty loin cloths and makeshift turbans, their bodies amounting to little more than skeletons politely wrapped in flesh. My mind evokes the scent of cheap pungent chewing tobacco and the pools of red saliva this leaves in the mouths of so many men. I see languid, mindless cows, chewing on newspaper with jingling bells dangling from multi-colored horns. Children laughing, romping and splashing in the stagnant water of local swimming holes. Tin shanties squatting helplessly in the shadow of opulent monoliths. Noisy markets. Tarpaulins flapping in the wind. Bright orange carrots. Deep maroon beets. Fleshy green cucumbers. Bulbous coconuts being hacked open by men with reed like bodies. One can scarcely imagine the number of bodies. All moving, talking, screaming, selling, buying, laughing, living, dying. Movement. So much movement. All encapsulated in the eternity that is this magnificent, sprawling nation.

I try to hold the beauty and the wonder of it all against a sudden downward surge...

* * * *

I must have drifted off. The sun is now brushing the tips of the tallest trees with bright green accents, and the dull haze of dawn is giving way to a vibrant morning light. Natalie and I are still holding hands. I shift cautiously, not wanting to wake her. The tears have dried; I can feel their salty remnants near the corners of my eyes. I take conscious breath. The surrounding air still holds its pensive tone, and bids me to continue my foggy abstraction.

Fresh energy begins to swirl around inside my head and within a few minutes I'm more alert. It dawns on me that I've spent the last quarter hour recounting impressions and outward experiences. And while I cherish these magnificent experiences - for they have greatly contributed to my joy - I am aware that they have nothing to do with my gratitude.

* * * *

I have to think back in time to truly explore this appreciative sense. It doesn't begin in this moment, but somewhere in the months before I left the States, and is heavily intertwined with my reasons for leaving. It's true that I wanted to abandon all the dead hours spent at pointless jobs, the tightly structured city blocks, the narrowing culture; the negatives, they're a given. But I also left behind loved ones, thousands of miles of unhitched road, the open country side, the squats, the anarchists, food-not-bombs and many other encouraging aspects of American counter-culture. Because it simply wasn't enough. I needed more.

And so I chose India.

This trip has been nothing short of a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage to the find the higher self. The observer. The lunatic soul. The naked truth of my being. I came to India to dig way down inside. To confront the very concept of I. And to challenge that concept. To prod it, awaken it, or put it to rest for good. Indeed, I wanted something beyond flesh and bone. Beyond thought and habit pattern. I wanted nothing less than complete and unambiguous emancipation from all the internal and external fetters of that self. I wanted a chance to worship at the wellspring of the universe. The source. A place with no ego, but only spirit.

I wasn't naive however. I knew that the goals I had laid out wouldn't be achieved as such. That I would only be taking a step in the right direction. And that's where my gratitude begins. In leaving everything behind. In giving myself a chance to take that step.

* * * *

While it doesn't matter how or why, it will suffice to say that I am now, 10 months later, living in this thatch hut on a 70 acre stretch of land in Tamil Nadu. Residing on site at an off-the-grid reforestation project. In an all vegan community run by volunteers. A place with seemingly endless gardens, solar panels, efficient wood burning stoves, bucket showers, dry compost toilets, no running water. I rise at 5:30 in the morning and spend my days in the sun, hauling buckets of water, filling hand wash stations, tending gardens, repairing bicycles. I live simply. Eat healthy food. And though I would be remiss to pass it off as perfect, it is truly amazing to be here.

The project has been dubbed
Sadhana Forest by its progenitors Aviram and Yorit. Sadhana means, in short 'a path to accomplisment' or 'a spiritual path'. And it has been just that for me. Everyday, in almost every moment, I am confronted with my own self nature. And I have acquired the gift of a slightly heightened awareness of that self nature. I have been able to observe - though rarely control - my reactions to my fellow volunteers. Appreciate moments of stillness when they arise. Acknowledge my volatility. And accept this stage of the journey in which I find myself. And for this especially, I am grateful.

And of course there's the people. The Eco-freaks. The
poets. The craftsmen. Engineers. Computer programmers. Yogis. Backpackers. Photographers. Joy seekers. Wanderers. Lovers. Crazies. They're all here. These holy vagabonds. Giving their time. Their energy. Their love. Sharing everything; joy, sorrow, distrust, helplessness, hope, encouragement, inspiration. It's a confluence of random chaos that has flowed together to form a makeshift community on the deserted rocks of colonialism, and it is a force to be reckoned with. Replanting the trees. Breathing new life into the soil. Giving a damn. And it is to these wonderful human beings, each and every one of them, that I hold a special gratitude. They are, all of them, my teachers. And that is something I will never forget. It is something that has changed the course of my life forever.

But it's time go.

In a few weeks my visa will run out, and though I have the option to return through the sponsored leadership program at Sadhana, I'm somehow aware that there is something else waiting for me. The next step on this path beckons me forward. And I have learned to listen to and trust the universe when it beckons. Every conversation, every second seemingly lost, every breath, every living creature that I have encountered has been a factor in leading me to this very moment. This greater, intuitive pulse has always proven itself to me, and so I'll follow it once more. To where I don't know.

* * * *

A quite chuckle escapes. My heart becomes humble.

"Thank you Mother India."

The words come out in a whisper followed by a light sigh. My gratitude is complete. With a sense of satisfaction, I lay quietly, lost in silence. After several moments, I begin to hum a tune I've never heard before. With a smile I devote this song to all the setting suns I have seen in this country, to all the days that have lent me the time and ability to grow, if even just a little. And after a moment, and as suddenly as it came, the tune calmly slips away. I watch after it as it goes traipsing off with the wind.

With another contented sigh I shift my attention back to Natalie. Letting my hand fall away from hers, I slide over and situate myself next her body. She responds, rolling onto her left side. I wrap my arms around her shoulders and feel the warmth of her skin melt into mine. I wonder, with a certain sweetness, where her path will take her. I breath in her warm balmy scent and kiss her shoulder, letting my lips linger there. My eyelids become heavy. Pulling a shawl over us I lay my head down and relax. With our bodies breathing in unison, I fall toward sleep once again.


treehugga73 said...

my brother from another mother, i am so happy too have crossed paths with you. You have put the morning smile on my face with your beautiful and warm words and i hold them dearly too my heart, were they will remain for the rest of my days on this planet. thak you and i bid you light and sunshine where ever your feet take you. one love dude

George the Scotsman.x

eric said...

Nice to know you stayed out there, in Wonderland, for ten months, brother.
It was a pleasure to cross paths with you at the Dharamkot Vipassana Centre (at the beginning of your pilgrimmage last October)...I knew then that there was a hidden spark of real Life waiting inside you to be born...

Jak[E], Bomber of Food said...

Upon reading your latest entry I am once again confronted by the narrowness of my own experience, of how comfortable I am within the folds of my daily routine. I envy your willingness to act spontaneously, to follow a path wherever it might take you. I am happy that you have found something in your travels, and I hope that I might see you in Sacramento again some day.

Luna said...

:') thank you brother, for you words.
so much emotion synchronises with what you were feeling, in it's own, unique, different but the same way. you bring tears to my eyes as well as smiles to my face to read this. i thank you so much for you.
you encourage me to sit down and write, but the task seems so overwhelming... but it will find me when it needs to. i didn't write anywhere as near as much as i would like, but it doesn't matter... we were living it and i can never forget that presence... as it is here right now with me. i love you my brother,
love emily xxxxxx